A dispute over delinquent trash bills sparked a protest yesterday at Chester's City Hall. Two dozen residents, angry that the city had not notified them sooner about missed bills, stood in the rain chanting, "Trash that trash bill!"

Last month, the city issued about 4,000 notices to property owners who had missed payments for their $120 annual trash-collection fees. The city had not previously notified people of missed payments because of a computer-system glitch that was not addressed until late last year, said Thomas Moore, chief of staff to Mayor Wendell N. Butler Jr. The unpaid trash bills account for $3 million in revenue, Moore said.

Some bills date back as far as 15 years, and with penalties and interest, the amount due for some residents is in the thousands of dollars. Many who received the bills believed that they had paid them either to Delaware County or through their mortgage companies.

"How are you going to penalize me when I had no knowledge of this?" said Jack Bishop, 63, a retired Boeing Co. electrician who has lived on West Sixth Street for 40 years. Bishop said he paid all his fees and taxes through his mortgage company, but received a bill for $371 for trash fees from 2000 and 2001.

Jayne Beaver, 66, of Butler Street, said she had received a bill for $2,300. Although she has fallen behind in her real estate taxes, she made arrangements with the county to make payments so she could keep her house. She never received notice from the city that she had to come to it directly to pay her trash bill.

The city's trash fee is included in annual real-estate tax bills issued the first week of March, Moore said. If the bills aren't paid to the city by Feb. 15 of the following year, the matter is turned over to the county Tax Claim Bureau.

But the county does not collect trash fees for Chester. So while some property owners were paying their real estate taxes to the county, they weren't taking care of the city trash fee.

In an interview Thursday, Butler said the matter could have been handled more delicately. He said city officials planned to vote on a resolution Wednesday that would excuse all penalty and interest fees from delinquent trash bills and allow for payment plans for residents to pay the principal.