Coral Gables

Property owners owe $3 million to Coral Gables for unpaid trash fees

Some Coral Gables residents have been taking out the trash without paying for it.

A total of 803 property owners owe the city about $3 million in past due garbage fees, and the city wants to collect.

The city will send out letters in the coming months to notify people that a special assessment lien is put on their property if they owe more than $1,000. Of the $3 million, $2.8 million stems from residents owing more than $1,000.

A lien is a note attached to a property that signifies that the owner owes a debt. The owner must pay the lien before he can sell or refinance the home. In this case, a special-assessment lien gives the debt a priority — for instance, in the event of a bankruptcy, the city would have priority in collecting its debt. The city can also foreclose on a lien.

The city releases the lien once it is paid.

The garbage fees go into the city’s general fund, and even if it’s a small percentage of the city’s $156.2 million budget, city commissioners want to have it available.

“There’s a lot we could be doing with that money,” said Mayor Jim Cason.

And in an effort to make sure that folks get the message, commissioners asked City Attorney Craig Leen to look into placing the liens on people’s tax bills.

“The idea is that at that point, they would pay the bill,” Leen said, adding that the city’s lawyers have determined that it is legal to include the lien on a tax bill.

Single-family property owners have the option to pay the city’s $715 solid waste fee upfront for an entire year, or to pay the fee quarterly. If paid quarterly, the fee totals $796, paid in four installments of $199.

Twenty percent of the delinquent properties, or 149 properties, are abandoned or bank-owned. About 650 regular residents have to pay up if they want that lien lifted. The overdue bills range from $200 to $12,000.

Cason said he noticed the $3 million figure when City Commission was briefed on the city’s financials earlier this year.

“If you got a $12,000 bill, that’s like 20 years,” said the mayor.

He said some residents may not worry about fees because they own their homes and don’t plan on selling them.

“If you don’t plan to sell your house, I guess people say ‘So what? I’m still getting my garbage picked up.’ ”

The City Beautiful doesn’t stop service even if someone hasn’t paid their bill because it doesn’t want to stink up the streets.

“We don’t want neighbors to be upset because there’s a bunch of garbage in front of a house,” Leen said.