Back in June 2004, the Georgia Supreme Court slammed the door on arguments against Columbia County's much-maligned "rain tax," the stormwater utility fee.
The state's highest court unanimously ruled that Columbia County was well within its legal rights when commissioners created the fee in 1999. The decision certainly didn't stop citizens' complaints against the fee - in fact, the issue undoubtedly played a role in former commissioner Frank Spears' 2002 defeat - but it took away any legal excuse for those refusing to pay their assessment.
At the time, we said, "the next battle in the courts can begin: Many in the stormwater utility coverage area refused to pay their fees while the issue was tied up in court. The county can now begin to aggressively pursue payment from everyone who owes money."
Well, that "next battle" has moved to a new phase. The county has been taking non-payers to court, winning judgements against them for unpaid fees.
Until recently, the only way to tackle those who still refuse to pay was for the county to attach a lien to the property of the non-payer. Liens aren't collected unless a property is sold, so that approach hasn't been entirely effective, either.
Thus, county officials have taken the next step by allowing the Water and Sewer Department to collect delinquent fees from the wages of those who refuse to pay.
Is the "rain tax" an aggravation? Absolutely. But it is a legally assessed fee, and as such, those in the stormwater utility area are obligated to pay it. Those who don't pay only make it more difficult to accomplish the work for which the fee was created.
It's unlikely the stormwater utility fee will ever go away. The small individual amount - an average charge of about $4 per month - makes it too insignificant for protest, while its collective usefulness as a revenue source makes it attractive to county officials looking for money under every couch cushion.
None of that means the "rain tax," which for now is charged only in the heavily developed part of the county, is particularly fair. But it certainly is not fair to make some people pay while others thumb their noses at the law.
Shortchange a few paychecks, and maybe the county's non-payers will open their checkbooks.
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