Judge: Town fee not legal

Published 7:45 am Wednesday, June 24, 2009

BOYKINS—The judge in a dispute over the town’s mandatory trash collection fee said he plans to rule Friday in favor of the defendants — four town residents, including the vice mayor, who have refused to pay the fee — because the town didn’t hold a public hearing on the fee before enacting it in 2007.

In a letter dated Friday, Southampton County General District Court Judge Warren Parker Councill said the ordinance that called for the mandatory trash collection fee “was not enacted in accordance with the state statute that authorizes such ordinances, and is, for that reason, not enforceable.”

The judge cited evidence from the June 12 trial that no public hearing was held before the Town Council enacted the ordinance on July 17, 2007, one of the objections that were raised by Vice Mayor Linda Beatty. The judge added that town officials at the trial did not dispute that a public hearing did not occur.

Councill also made note that the four defendants had not been using the service.

“None of the defendants actually availed themselves of the trash collection services of the town,” Councill said. “The town has not taken the position that it should be justly compensated for services actually rendered.”

Beatty said Tuesday that “justice has been served,” but declined to comment further.

Mayor Spier Edwards said Tuesday that he had been in contact with several attorneys about the issue, including Town Attorney Timothy Drewry and other legal counsel in Richmond. Edwards said the town “was investigating different avenues considering the text of the judge’s letter.” The mayor said that if the town’s legal research proved favorable, the town could possibly ask the judge for a continuation at Friday’s hearing, scheduled for 1:05 p.m.

Drewry did not return phone calls seeking comment.

“It’s a move in the right direction, but I think (the judge’s ruling) should affect all citizens of Boykins, not just the main four,” said J.C. Owen, one of the four defendants. “We’re not going to stop the fight on it. We’re exempt from the fee at the moment, but I’d like to know what’s going to happen to the other residents.”

The other two defendants are William Pennington and Charles Vaughan.

In his letter, Councill said, “judgment will be entered for the defendant in each of the cases mentioned above,” and listed Beatty, Owen, Pennington and Vaughan. It was not clear what that meant for the other eight people Boykins took to court for refusing to pay the fee, four of whom were ordered by Councill to pay the $94.50 they owe, plus an additional 6 percent in interest, on May 29. Two other defendants agreed to pay the fee before presumably being ordered by Councill to do so. The court is still looking to serve two final defendants.

According to town records, each of the 12 people involved in the case has not paid the trash collection fee for the last 21 months.

Collectively the 12 people owe the town $1,134. The fee is $4.50 per month or $50 per year.

The town charged a trash collection fee for several years, but the town council voted 3-2 in 2007 to make it mandatory. Beatty was one of the dissenting votes.

Boykins picks up trash and yard waste twice a week. Trash is collected on Mondays and Fridays, while yard waste is picked up on Tuesdays and Thursdays.