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Judge rules for county in garbage case

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By Jonna Spelbring Priester

General Manager

A Circuit Court judge issued a ruling declaring the county’s mandatory garbage ordinance franchise fee was legal and not unreasonable, ending a four-year legal battle for the Henry County.

The case began the Henry County Concerned Citizens filed a class action law suit in 2004. At the time, attorney William Sturm said he and his clients felt the mandatory garbage collection ordinance and exclusive franchise agreement with Rumpke were “illegal and invalid” and should be declared unconstitutional. In her ruling, Conrad disagreed.

“As a matter of Kentucky statutory law, it is permissible for Henry County to utilize franchise fees generated by mandatory garbage collection to help fund, implement and administer its solid waste program,” Circuit Court Judge Karen Conrad wrote. “The Court further finds that the claim for violation of equal protection under the Kentucky Constitution has no legal or factual basis.”

After the ruling was issued, Henry County John Logan Brent issued a statement saying the case could have had serious ramifications throughout the state.

“After spending four years and literally hundreds of hours dealing with this lawsuit, it feels great to hear Judge Conrad’s favorable ruling,” he said. “This was a win not only for Henry County, but for the Commonwealth of Kentucky as an unfavorable ruling would have affected dozens of counties and hundreds of cities across the state.

“County government is in a daily battle to deliver the clean community our citizens deserve. The mandatory garbage program is an important weapon in that battle. This county is moving forward, we’re not looking back.”

In addition to declaring the franchise fee valid, Conrad also ruled that the plaintiffs failed to offer any evidence that the county’s dumpster non-exclusive agreement should be declared void. She added that HCCC could not be awarded a declaratory judgment based on any of the allegations in the case.

As part of the lawsuit, plaintiffs claimed the franchise fees associated with the mandatory garbage pickup were unreasonable. In her ruling, Judge Karen Conrad said the CCHC did not meet the burden of proof. Further, in her ruling, Conrad said the county’s franchise fee was “enacted pursuant to statutory authority.”

“The authorization and use of franchise fees is reasonable, valid, and legal,” she wrote, “and the Plaintiffs have failed to persuade the Court otherwise.”

Conrad also dismissed the Plaintiff’s argument that the fees could only be applied toward administration of the ordinance. nor that the fee was a “veiled tax.”

“And in fact,” she wrote, “there is no law to support this claim, and there are many solid waste related expenses which Henry County incurs every year. These are exactly the type of expenses that the franchise fees are meant to offset.

“The franchise fees pass muster as long as they are generated for solid waste program expenses only, as indicated by the evidence in this case.”

Conrad also ruled that the county’s mandatory garbage collection ordinance does not violate HCCC’s constitutional rights. “The Equal Protection violation claims asserted by Plaintiffs are fatally flawed,” Conrad said in her ruling. She went on to say that while city residents do not pay the franchise fee, any benefits they may receive as a result of the fee are minimal.

In that portion of her ruling, Conrad said that “driven by public health and welfare concerns, the ordinance has worthwhile community merit, and is mandated by Kentucky law.”

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