Justice judge, supervisors at odds over garbage fee

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, December 17, 2002

In an effort to collect a delinquent garbage fee, Lincoln Countysupervisors will refile the case in justice court after it wasearlier dismissed by Judge Judy Martin.

“We’re going to take a look at it and keep it fair,” saidDistrict 3 Supervisor and Board President Nolan Earl Williamsonwhen asked about the refiling after Monday morning’s meeting.

The case involves a $477 bill at a Union Street Extensionbusiness where the owner told the judge that the garbage servicewas never used. When questioned about the case later Monday, Martinit was the board’s prerogative to refile.

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“I felt like I had just cause to dismiss it,” Martin said.

County officials contend justice court judges do not have theauthority to dismiss cases. They said frequency of use was not anissue and the county is being charged for the service by itsprivate contractor.

“We’re still having to provide the service whether they’re theretwo days a week or seven days a week,” said County AdministratorDavid Fields. “Whether they put garbage out on the road or not, theservice is there for them to use.”

County officials knew of two cases that Martin had dismissed. Inthe other, which involved an elderly man on a fixed income, thedelinquent amount was written off but the man was charged from thecourt date forward, said Debbie Brent, solid waste coordinator.

The county charges $9 a month for the service and gives a $1 amonth discount if the service if paid for a year in advance.

Martin acknowledged three cases that she had dismissed. Oneinvolved the business and two involved elderly residents with fixedincomes and high medical bills.

“The elderly can’t afford it…,” said Martin, citing the thirdcase in which the elderly woman’s garbage was taken to a relative’shome for disposal. “That $9 a month may be all they have left tobuy groceries with.”

Martin disputed the county officials’ stance on garbagefees.

“Their attitude is if lights are going to the home, then itshould be generating garbage. That’s not always the case,” Martinsaid.

Martin said the county’s summonses on delinquent accountsgarners a low response, but most are found guilty and ordered topay.

“Most of them come in a say, ‘Yeah, I owe it,'” Martin said.

Martin could not cite the code section granting her authority todismiss cases. She contacted the state Attorney General’s officefor assistance, but did not immediately receive a responseMonday.

Martin maintained she had discretion to dismiss any case thatcame before her court. She said she takes the delinquent garbagefee cases on a case by case basis.

“If they want us to rubber stamp it, there’d be no need for themto send them down here,” Martin said about supervisors and desiredcourt action on the fees.

Martin and fellow Justice Court Judge B.J. Price, whoacknowledged dismissing a few cases in which people had proof ofnot living at a residence for years, said the garbage fee situationwas a “big mess.”

Price mentioned the possibility of alternate funding methods,such as an assessment on citations, to pay for garbage service orplacing dumpsters in centralized areas for garbage disposal. Martinmentioned hearing some comments from people that the garbage feewas never voted on and was “taxation without representation.”

“People are angry about it,” she said.

Section 19-5-17 of the Mississippi Code says counties shallprovide for the collection and disposal of garbage and givessupervisors authority to charge fees for the service. The sectionalso gives counties authority to bring a civil action to collectunpaid fees.

In a related discussion during Monday’s board meeting,supervisors discussed creating some alternate methods that wouldallow a garbage account to be closed. Currently, a powerdisconnection notice is the only approved method for closing anaccount.

“Create them, that’s fine, but stick to them,” warned Bob Allen,board attorney, about other methods.

Fields said other documents could include a house fire report orlandlord certification in rental property cases where the landlordpays the fee. He indicated that would streamline the process fortaxpayers and for the county through better notification of citizenmovement.

“We want to come up with some other types of documents thatwould allow us to be able to close an account without the boardhaving to act on it,” Fields said.

Although the county has had some problems with collecting fees,Fields said the collection rate is in the 85-90 percent range. Hesaid the filings in justice court have seen successful.

“The suing has worked. We’ve had a lot of people pay up or comein to work out a plan to pay up,” Fields said.