Boykins tries again on trash fee

Published 8:52 am Wednesday, September 16, 2009

BOYKINS—The town has taken the first steps toward amending its mandatory trash collection fee, scheduling a public hearing on the matter for next week.

The public hearing will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23, at the Boykins Firehouse, located at 18139 N. Railroad St.

“We didn’t have to have a public hearing, but we decided it would be best for everybody,” Mayor Spier Edwards said. “We’re not trying to hide anything.”

It will be the first time the fee will be discussed at a public forum since the town retained the services of the Richmond-based law firm Hefty & Wiley — which specializes in municipal law — to amend the trash ordinance. Attorneys with the Virginia Municipal League have also been advising the town.

Southampton County General District Court Judge Warren Parker Councill ruled on June 23 that the town’s trash collection fee was not enforceable because the municipality did not hold a public hearing before making the fee mandatory in 2007. His ruling currently absolves J.C. Owen, William Pennington, Charles Vaughan and the town’s vice mayor, Linda Beatty, from paying the fee.

Asked Friday about the public hearing, Beatty said, “I’m just glad we’re having one.”

Owen said he was planning to attend the meeting.

“I’m against any mandate,” Owen said. “The fact is it’s a service. If you want it, you get it. If you don’t want it, you don’t get it.”

Edwards said he planned to put together a separate “mayor’s newsletter” about the trash ordinance and would go door-to-door to distribute the fliers to town residents. The flier would contain at least four options he personally believes the town has regarding the trash fee. The town could:

Sell its trash truck and hire a private hauler to collect trash in Boykins

Institute a voluntary trash pickup program at $9 per month, but would need to raise real estate taxes to offset any lost revenue.

Offer free trash pickup, but would have to raise real estate taxes considerably.

Keep the trash collection fee mandatory at a rate of $9 per month.

“I’m sure the Town Council is willing to listen to any options, but these are the only four options that I know of,” Edwards said. “If the citizens don’t want the ordinance, then we need to find out what they do want.”

Owen said he is familiar with some of those options but is still opposed to the trash fee being mandatory.

“The town is not a tax authority, so I don’t agree with these options either,” Owen said. “They’re still trying to get money. It’s extortion either way you look at it. I don’t support any of these efforts.”

He added, “They’re trying to justify their reason for having the trash ordinance. We already have it in our taxes. It’s already paying for the trash. Now they want to raise taxes to pay for more trash? That’s ridiculous.”

Edwards said the amended trash ordinance could come before the next Town Council meeting on Oct. 13 for a vote. If approved, it would take effect immediately.

Boykins took 12 people to General District Court for refusing to pay the fee, which is $4.50 per month or $50 per year. When the cases went to court, the 12 people collectively owed the town $1,134.

Councill ordered four people to pay the $94.50 they owed, 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.

After the June 23 ruling against the town, the Boykins Town Council voted June 29 to appeal the cases to Circuit Court, but then reversed itself on July 27 when it passed a combined motion to drop the appeal and amend the trash ordinance. Beatty recused herself from the June 29 vote, and was out of town on July 27.

Both Edwards and Town Clerk Pat Draper have said the town has spent thousands on legal fees over the trash collection fee dispute. On Monday, Edwards estimated the legal fees could eclipse $6,000.

“We’re going to have to take some people back to court,” Edwards said. “We’re going to have additional legal fees then. It’s just adding up considerably.”

The town charged a trash collection fee for several years, but the Town Council voted 3-2 in 2007 to make it mandatory. Beatty and Michael Gadsby voted against the idea.

Boykins picks up household waste twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays. Yard waste is picked up on Tuesdays.