What with all the unpaid garbage bills for 87 cents in Hernando?

Hernando County customers of Republic Services might be wondering what's up with the mysterious 87-cent charge in their garbage bills. It represents a quarterly price increase that went into effect Jan. 1. However, the first increase was “inadvertently left off the bills” customers received in December for the period of January through March 2021, according to a news release.

“Your automatic payment failed to process,” reads the title of emails sent to Hernando County customers of Republic Services, the county’s residential waste carrier.

The amount everyone owed? Just 87 cents.

The email explained that customers who are billed quarterly for trash service needed to log into their Republic account and update their payment method (suggesting the customer’s credit or debit cards may have caused the problem) or change the “payment limit” setting in their Republic account settings. Customers who followed those instructions quickly discovered it led to a dead end.

It turned out Republic’s system can’t accept payments less than $1, so changing the payment method to another bank card would not solve anything. Some apparently tried to use the “pay-now” button to manually make the 87-cent payment, but as sub-$1 payments are not possible, it took them back to square one.

Republic asked Hernando County to help clear up the catch 22 with a press release explaining, said Kasey Kupcik, county public information coordinator. The release, issued Friday, explained that the error was Republic’s and not the fault of customers. The recommended remedy was to do nothing (provided their outstanding balance was no more than 87 cents) and wait for the 87 cents owed to be added to their next quarterly billing in March. Republic also mailed letters and made robocalls to customers explaining the glitch and how to deal with it.

So what’s with the charge in the first place?

The 87 cents represents a quarterly price increase previously approved for 2021 by Hernando County commissioners. It went into effect Jan. 1, but the first increase was “inadvertently left off the bills” customers received in December for the period of January through March 2021, according to the release. It went on to explain that when the increase was added by Republic in January, “the system generated bills for the $0.87 difference.”

The bottom line is that the March bill will add 87 cents, along with an additional 87 cents approved for the second quarter, bringing the total due $42.21. Because quarterly bills are increasing in 87-cent increments throughout 2021, those who set a maximum payment amount too low to cover the higher payments when they set up auto-pay needed to log onto their accounts and adjust settings to allow enough to cover the increases. By the fourth quarter of 2021, the quarterly rate will be $43.95, reflecting the four 87-cent increases.

Hernando residents in the mandatory waste service zones of Spring Hill are not affected by the glitch, as the fees are bundled into their annual property tax bills, said Kupcik.

The rate increases for 2021 were negotiated in 2018 to cover Republic’s investment in automated trash bin lifting systems to its trucks, as well as the thousands of new, blue trash bins designed to work with the lifts. Republic proposed the new system to speed up trash pickup in the county and deal with manpower issues that can lead to missed of late trash pickups and customer dissatisfaction.