The suit initiated by Stonewood Management Group LLC, doing business as Creekside Apartments, is seeking a court order that the apartment complex be allowed to hire a private garbage contractor, according to Anniston-based Attorney David Stubbs, who is representing the city in this case.
The issue originated when the city twice denied the Motes Road apartments exemption from its mandatory residential disposal service. Sylacauga’s garbage ordinance requires every residence to participate “unless proof can be provided that they have secured a disposal permit through the Health Department as provided by law.”
Creekside owner Hiliary Henderson had taken the necessary steps to receive a Certificate of Exception for solid waste services from the Talladega County Health Department and only needed the city’s OK to obtain it. At the time, he said his disposal expense would be about $250 a month with his own service, rather than the roughly $1,200 he pays the city, saving about $12,000 annually.
Jim Heigl, who was council president at the time, explained the council’s decision to deny the requests, saying the city had an exclusive contract with Veolia Environmental Services, now Advanced Disposal, and would have to cover Creekside’s collection costs until that contract ran out in December 2013, if exemption was allowed. The city also feared other apartment complexes would follow suit.
Stubbs, who was appointed to represent Sylacauga through the city’s affiliation with Alabama Municipal Insurance Corporation, said exemption for Creekside would leave the city to pay the collection costs for each of the 80 apartments, occupied or not, and would also create regulation issues for garbage pick-up throughout the city.
The case is currently in the discovery phase, Stubbs said, which involves investigation of the claim and depositions. It will eventually be set for trial in Talladega County and has been assigned to Circuit Judge Julian King, according to court records.
At an Aug. 5 City Council work session, the council discussed revising the garbage ordinance to prevent this situation from occurring again. Councilman Joe Hogan led the discussion, though no specific names were mentioned at any point.
Hogan said by charging residents garbage collection fees as part of rent, rather than billing them individually through the Utilities Board, he believes the apartments should fall under the business exemption outlined in the ordinance.
“What’s happening is that person has come before your council and was dismissed, although he had every right in the world to have his exemption based on what this says, if he is in turn billing as a business,” Hogan said. “But we’re saying as a residence, you have to pay your residential fee, apparently through the Utilities Board or however you’re going to pay that, but we’re not enforcing that. We’re not allowing him to be the business in charge of the dumpster, and we’re not allowing them to be the residents and pay their monthly fee, and he’s found a loophole in this that gives him his exemption, and that hasn’t been allowed. Whatever happens with his proceedings is beside the fact that this (ordinance) needs to be cleaned up and brought in line so there are no problems, no contradictions.”
Councilman Tom Roberts said the city’s ordinance is unusual based on his knowledge of trash collection.
“Traditionally, in that industry, apartment complexes and multi-family units have separate service contracted by the complex,” Roberts said. “And ours has been that they have it through the city and he pays per residence, which is quite a bit more than if he were contracted as an individual business. Whoever wrote that in there, it is an ingenious idea. It’s a revenue raiser for both the company the city contracts through, and I’m sure the city as well, but that’s different than any other I’ve ever seen, and I did work in that business.”
Council President Rocky Lucas asked why garbage fees could not be arranged through the Utilities Board at the apartment complex. City Clerk Patricia Carden said apartments tend to have high turnover rates, so Advanced Disposal bills the city, which bills the apartment owners. The city contracts per unit, regardless of occupancy, she said.
“There’s a lot of stuff in (the ordinance) that needs to come out because it’s just too cumbersome, and it’s really not something we have the manpower to provide and control,” she said.
Carden said now is the time to make any changes to the ordinance and rebid the trash collection contract if changes are to be made before it expires at the year’s end.
Contact Emily Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.