FORT SMITH -- Some residents of unincorporated parts of Sebastian County have reportedly received higher bills for solid waste collection and disposal service without proper authorization from the county.
Jason Fitzgerald, director of government affairs for Cards Holdings, appeared at the Quorum Court's meeting Tuesday to answer questions about a rate increase the Quorum Court rejected Feb. 21. Sebastian County has a five-year exclusive franchise agreement with Cards River Valley to provide residential solid waste services in the county's unincorporated areas.
The increase, which Cards had requested, would have raised the monthly rate for each participating residence from $18.05 to $19.55 starting April 1.
Johnny Hobbs, justice of the peace for District 1, said he'd heard from residents complaining the rate increase applied to their bills despite the Quorum Court's decision. He had asked Fitzgerald if Cards had initiated it without the Quorum Court's approval.
"I had a mayor approach me about it, and evidently he's got more complaints about it than I have," Hobbs said after the meeting.
Lavaca Mayor Hugh Hardgrave confirmed Thursday he had heard people out in the county had the rate increase added to their bills, though he didn't know whether that was true. He declined to comment further.
Fitzgerald said from what he had been told, Cards' billing department had the rate increase "set aside," meaning it wouldn't go out until the Quorum Court approved it. Cards would provide residents affected by the unauthorized raise with company credit.
Fitzgerald said after the meeting the customers are billed quarterly. "If need be, we'll credit back any account that's been overcharged," he said.
Fitzgerald said he didn't know how the increased bills would have happened or about the reported issue itself before Tuesday's meeting.
"It's something we're going to definitely have to look into," Fitzgerald said.
The Quorum Court ultimately didn't take any action regarding the requested rate increase, such as adding it to the meeting agenda for further discussion.
Fitzgerald said Cards is willing to work with and help the county in any capacity. The company had one-on-one conversations with justices of the peace prior to the meeting to answer their questions about the increase.
County Judge Steve Hotz said a justice of the peace could contact him or his office to get the increase on the agenda for a future meeting. The Quorum Court's next meeting is set for April 18.
Fitzgerald has said the rate increase was the first Cards requested from the county since it began providing residential solid waste services April 1, 2022. The company serves 3,500 to 4,000 customers through its agreement with the county, which expires March 31, 2027.
The agreement states Cards River Valley will provide each residence who agrees to pay the monthly fee -- which doesn't include sales tax -- a 96-gallon polycart container in which to put its garbage. Garbage collection is contracted to take place once per week.
Cards provides equipment and services for two countywide clean-up campaigns per year as well.
Cards' request stemmed from increased operating costs the company has experienced the past few years -- including fuel and disposal costs, as well as increases in the consumer price index -- according to a letter from Fitzgerald included in the packet for the Quorum Court's Feb. 21 meeting.