The city of Kennesaw is one of a few cities with an ordinance that requires that all residents within the city limits establish and maintain city sanitation service. Residents are not allowed to choose their own company; they must select the city service. While we can all understand the reason for requiring that citizens and homeowners maintain their homes, how far will the city go when a citizen doesn’t have their service? You might just be amazed to learn that you can be charged the service even if you call and cancel it. You can then find yourself charged with fines, placed on probation and facing jail time. Think it can’t happen in Kennesaw? Think again, Watchers. It has!
Lisa Lynch, a long time resident of Kennesaw, worked for the city for eleven years until 2008. While seeking new employment, Lisa, was unable to keep her garbage service. She called the city to make sure they knew her situation. She left messages that went unanswered. She wrote emails with no response. She continued to try to communicate her plight to the city, explaining that she simply could not afford the service. Lisa previously worked in the Public Works department, and she understood that all residents and homeowners must register and maintain trash service with the city. However, she was in a situation where she just could not afford to make a different decision. She had already removed her internet service and had only a cell phone for calls. She was struggling to make her house payment and keep the water, gas and electric active.
Over the course of two years, Lisa continued to attempt to reach out to the city and explain that she could not afford their service. Her billing continued and the violations were taped to her door. In August of 2011, the police made a first visit to her home but she was not there. Having finally found a job, she was working to get caught up on past due bills, including keeping her home from foreclosure.
The following morning, as she left for work, she noticed a black police truck with lights on following her. The officer asked for her license and registration and indicated this was a routine traffic issue. She indicated that she had stopped at the stop sign.
Lisa states ” When she got my license in hand, she said ‘Ms Lynch, I’ve been looking for you for a long time. I’ve got something for you’. She turned out to be code enforcement. She walked back to her truck, came back to my truck window, and immediately handed me a citation and asked me to sign it. It was a citation for not having the City sanitation service. I asked her why she stopped me pretending it was a traffic violation stop. (no answer to that). The citation was completely filled out except for my drivers license information. She already had my tag number and everything on the citation.”
In October of 2011, Lisa went to court for the first time for not having city sanitation service. She met with the city solicitor, Randall Bentley, who explained that she had three options. Her first option was: pay the delinquent billing for service of $500.97 plus a $100 deposit for establishing service and he would drop her fine to between $200 and $300. Her second option was to go before the judge, but he explained she would still have to pay all of that plus the full $1300 in court fines. Her third option was to simply move out of the city limits of Kennesaw. She explained her situation to him again but he said there was nothing he could do. He told her to think about her options and gave her a continuance until November, 2011.
This pattern continued two more times, each with Lisa insisting that she did not have the money. She offered to make payments but the city was unwilling. She explained that she was not trying to get out of her obligation, although she never understood why the city had nothing in place for a hardship exception.
In February of 2012, Lisa went to court. She was placed on probation for six months which added another fine of $44 per month to her obligations that she was struggling to meet. She was told that she has to pay all of the back billing $500.97 within the probation period, plus the deposit and the fines and keep up with the $44 per month plus her partial payment on the fine of $40.
She began to visit her probation officer in February of 2012. Each visit she made required that she leave work early, missing more pay. She also had to submit to drug tests regularly which cost her another $15 each time. She was told that she could not visit places that have a nightlife, such as a bar and could not consume any alcohol during the entire time she remains on probation. She explained that she had no money for that luxury, however, she was appalled that she was being treated like a criminal for not having trash service!
Because she now has the added expense of her probation fine, which is the only thing keeping her out of court, she cannot make any payments at all towards her other billing. Although, her household gas service was cut off, she made her appointment each month and paid the $84 but was barely able to keep her head above water on all of her other bills.
In June of 2012, Lisa met again with her probation officer and saw the judge in court. She was given only two options this time around; community service or jail. As of this writing, she still does not know if she will be placed in jail which will cost her the job she has, the home she has worked so hard to keep, and still will do nothing to help her pay off the back billing to the city for the sanitation service when she was out of work.
Sanitation violations are handled by code enforcement. That is the division of the police department that handles all code violations like people who do not take care of their yards or place signs on the city right of way. They handle much more than that; we do not mean to diminish their workload. Does this punishment mean that having your grass too tall can also put you in jail? How about people who have rental properties and the yards are overgrown with weeds?
Should the city go this far by requiring a sanitation service with only the city? And if so, should there be some hardship exceptions built in? During this economy, should cities work more with their residents to help them overcome these types of issues by accepting payments rather than demanding it all up front? Was this an unusual case or is this the way all sanitation violations are treated?
Get involved, Kennesaw! We CAN make a difference!