In Summit Hill, if you have a home that's been vacant for at least six months, you don't have to pay the annual garbage collection fee per a pro-rated basis.

The rule went into effect this year. There's a chance changes will occur in 2011.

It is understandable that an exemption occurs if a residential property becomes non-residential permanently, such as through demolition or physical changes occurring.

Since the borough council has been allowing the exemptions earlier this year, more than five dozen property owners have applied and gotten the approval to not pay the annual fee.

In some cases, properties are either rental units vacated between tenants. If a house is listed "for sale" and is vacant in the six month period, the exemption can apply.

Beginning in 2011, the exemptions will be permitted to occur only once a year.

Still, is it right to give exemptions for short periods like six months? What happens to the garbage when a vacated property is being cleaned out? Does anyone from the borough council really check the status of every applicant or fully make prove the property is vacant?

Mayor Paul McArdle pointed out that taxes continue on a property whether vacant or not. Most utility charges apply, too.

If the council decides to continue providing exemptions, perhaps a panel should be appointed to hear the request for exemptions and make a recommendation to the council. Or, amend the current amendment to qualify only properties which permanently are noninhabitable to qualify for the non-payment option.

Another problem in the borough is that the delinquent list for trash collection is very high; so high that it is impacting the borough budget. It threatens to create a hardship on those residents who do pay their annual fees by forcing higher rates.

It is understandable that in these tough economic times that people are having difficulty in paying some of their bills. Trash collection fees don't rate the same priority as food, mortgages, etc.

Unfortunately, the garbage collection fee is still a necessary evil. It's up there with other utilities like electric, sewage, and water.

For those who don't pay the rate, the borough has to take collection actions as quickly as possible. It's not fair to the residents who are struggling financially but still manage to make the payments when they become due.

It costs the borough well over $300,000 a year for trash collection. Every property owner is in the equation for paying that annual fee. That equation includes rates of $220 per household per year, with payments allowable on a semi-annual basis.

For anyone who has attended a budget meeting, it's obvious there's no way this rate can be reduced. On the other hand, because of deadbeats, there's a strong chance the rate might have to be increased, penalizing those who do pay the bill.

By Ron Gower

rgower@tnonline.com