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Rural trash fee rebellion costs Oklahoma City $5.5 million

Residents who don't have Oklahoma City water still are required to pay for trash service — but many refuse, nearly 20 years after the requirement took effect.
by William Crum Modified: December 17, 2013 at 2:00 pm •  Published: December 16, 2013

Oklahoma City has a $5.5 million hole in its finances, thanks in part to a taxpayer rebellion over trash collection that began in 1994.

Customers who receive trash service but are not on city water owe the money. Their delinquent utility accounts include penalties for nonpayment.

The city is asking the state Legislature for authority to place liens on property to collect the money.

Back in 1994, city council leaders agreed that concerns about public health justified adding about 14,000 rural households to trash routes.

Upset residents brought 105 new trash carts to city hall Aug. 30, 1994, to demonstrate their displeasure with being charged $10.49 per month for weekly trash pickup.

They said they were being forced to pay, whether they wanted the service or not.

“When the city began service to the more rural parts of the city, a significant portion of the rural customers chose to boycott the service,” said Debbie Ragan, utilities spokeswoman.

“Boycotting,” she said, “included refusal to pay.”

Today, weekly trash service is $19.06 per month. There are 2,409 overdue “waterless” accounts — that is, customers who don't get city water.

That includes 971 customers who owe $1,000 or more. Of those, 149 owe more than $10,000. Those 971 customers owe $5.1 million of the total.

Customers who don't get city water generally are in rural areas.

City officials said they usually can get the attention of customers with overdue utility bills by threatening to shut off the water — but those customers are in the more densely developed parts of town.

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by William Crum
OU and Norman High School graduate, formerly worked as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, and the Norman Transcript. Married, two children, lives in Norman.
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