Boykins residents talk trash at hearing

Published 8:42 am Friday, September 25, 2009

BOYKINS—About 60 people attended a spirited yet civil debate over the town’s mandatory trash ordinance during a public hearing Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, town officials said they would pass a revised version of the ordinance at their next meeting in October and would haul four people who have refused to pay their trash collection fees back to court.

Residents and business owners took turns at the podium of the Boykins Firehouse to voice their support or opposition to the trash collection fee, which is $9 per month or $100 per year.

“The issue has never been whether we should have trash pickup,” said Vice Mayor Linda Beatty, who opposes the fee and was taken to court by the town for not paying it. “All of us agree that it should be available for people that want the service. The issue is how do we pay for the service for those that want to use it.”

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

“I took a stand because there were people who had told me that they too did not believe that trash service should be mandatory,” Beatty said.

Since its defeat in court, the town has retained the services of municipal law firm Hefty & Wiley of Richmond, and with legal counsel has amended the trash ordinance. Attorneys with the Virginia Municipal League have also been advising Boykins.

Town Council member Mary Elizabeth Washington, a supporter of the ordinance, said the council would pass a revised ordinance “that will be the best for the town and one that will hold up in a court of law. (The non-payers) will find (themselves) back in court again, and this time the town will be ready.”

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

Although Wednesday’s public hearing was not required by law, town officials and their legal counsel thought it would be a good idea to call one anyway.

Most of the speakers at the podium were opposed to trash collection being mandatory.

“The problem I have with the trash collection is that it’s mandatory,” Owen said. “If I chose to use the service, I would use it. However, as a business owner I do support it on Main Street.”

Barbara Grant also opposes the ordinance.

“If everyone pays, then that’s fine, that’s fair for everyone,” Grant said. “We don’t even use the trash service, but we still pay. But if we have some people who have not paid, then we need to find another (method of collecting money).”

Pennington said he “doesn’t like being told what I have to buy. It should be put out to a general vote by every citizen. If the population votes for it, that’s a different story. But this has been mandated by six people sitting in a back room. Where is it going to end? It’s going to go downhill.”

But the ordinance did have its backers.

“I don’t think anybody can haul their own trash to the dump for $9 a month,” said John Darden. “I remember years ago when you drove behind the stores on Main Street you would see trash in boxes that stayed back there a week or two weeks. People being what they are, they’re going to let their trash sit around if we don’t have (mandatory trash pickup). The next thing you know we’re going to have dogs dragging trash out into the street, and then cats, raccoons, rats and mice.”

Mike McManus, owner of Boykins Beans & Ice Cream, also supported the measure.

“I can think of a lot more constructive things to do than haul my trash to the dump, and I make a lot of it,” McManus said. “For nine dollars a month, that service is invaluable to me.”

Said Brett Bunch: “People here pay income taxes, but you don’t have one word to say how that money is spent. A lot of my taxes go to something I don’t like. But I pay my taxes because I am a citizen of the United States.”

Bunch and several other speakers suggested having trash picked up once, instead of twice, a week. Boykins picks up household waste twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays. Yard waste is picked up on Tuesdays.

“I don’t necessarily have to have mandatory trash pickup, and I don’t necessarily have to have two pickups a week,” Bunch said.

Boykins has spent about $6,000 on legal fees over the trash collection fee dispute.

During her comments at the podium, Beatty briefly touched on the town’s legal bills.

“This is a warrant in debt,” she said. “It should not have required a lawyer to go to court to collect these fees. That money could have been spent for something else. I don’t think I should take the blame for that.”

Boykins took 12 people to General District Court for refusing to pay the fee, which at the time was $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 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.

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.