Mandatory Garbage Pickup
Several citizens of Cherokee County have recently received a letter instructing them that if they did not subscribe to Cherokee County’s “mandatory garbage pickup” provider, they would be penalized. The question I am getting is, of course, “Can the county force me to pay for garbage pickup?”
Yes, with exceptions. Under Alabama Code Section 22-27-3, the county commission is authorized to make available to the general public collection services for garbage. Under the law, the county commission may provide such collection services through contract with a private agency that provides house-to-house service. In Cherokee County’s case, they have contracted with Waste Away Group, Inc. to provide these garbage collection services.
The law goes on to note that when a county chooses to make garbage pickup available, it has the power and authority to adopt rules and regulations regarding mandatory participation. In the early 1990s, the Cherokee County commission chose to adopt this mandatory garbage pickup law. The law and corresponding commission resolutions require that every person, household, business, industry, or property generating garbage “shall participate in and subscribe to garbage pickup services” through the servicer contracted by the county.
There are, however, exceptions to the rule. For one, the mandatory garbage collection law does not apply within the corporate limits of a municipality without the consent of the municipality. Additionally, any household whose sole source of income is Social Security is granted an exemption from the payment of any required fees. The household seeking to claim the exemption must present proof of income to the county health officer no later than the first billing date of any year in which the exemption is desired. Further, the Legislature may, by local law, authorize the county commission to grant additional exemptions to households whose total income does not exceed 75% of the federal poverty level.
There is also a “vacation residence” exception in the County’s contract with Waste Away Group, Inc. Under this exception, “due to the transient or vacation residences which are in the County,” garbage pickup along with the associated fees can be suspended for not less than one month and not longer than nine months in any given year. A request for this “reduction of service” must be made in writing and must be mailed or faxed to Waste Away Group, Inc. at its office in Cherokee County.
Otherwise, the law provides for a “general exception.” This part of the law states that a person, household, business, industry, or any property owner may store, haul, and dispose of his or her own garbage provided that such storage, haulage, or disposal is accomplished pursuant to a “certificate of exception.” In order to obtain a certificate of exception, an application, an application fee of ten dollars, and garbage disposal plan must be filed with the county health officer. The plan must set out the proposed method of storing, hauling, and/or disposing of garbage and must comply with rules and regulations adopted by the state or county boards of health. The county health officer will then investigate the application and plan and, if approved, issue a certificate of exception within sixty days. The county health officer then notifies the county commission or municipal governing body in writing of its intention to grant a certificate of exception. At this point, the county commission must approve the certificate of exception for it to be valid. If the certificate of exception is approved, it is valid for a period not to exceed one year. This means that the application and plan must be re-filed and approved at least every year.
The constitutionality of Alabama’s mandatory garbage pickup law has been repeatedly upheld in State Courts as a “reasonable provision enacted under Alabama’s police power to promote public health.” Alabama courts have noted that “government does not violate the constitutional prohibitions against the taking of property without compensation and due process of law by requiring participation in a mandatory system of waste disposal.” The courts admit that “mandatory participation in garbage pickup restricts a citizen’s right to exercise dominion and control over his property.” Courts have gone on to state, however, that these rights are trumped by reasonable conditions as may be deemed by the county commission to be essential to the “safety, health, peace, good order, and morals of the community.” The courts basically have ruled that if the county feels garbage is a problem, it can rightfully require it to be removed and disposed of. In such circumstances, Alabama courts say that “the property rights of individuals must be subordinated to the general good.”
The law also provides for certain penalties for those who have not been granted a certificate of exception yet refuse to participate in the County’s mandatory garbage pickup service. For one, the county commission may bring a civil action in circuit court to compel participation. Further, the law states that any person in violation of complying with the mandatory garbage pickup law can also be charge with a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be fined not less than $ 50.00 nor more than $ 200.00, plus court costs. If the violation is continuing, each day’s violation shall constitute a separate offense and shall carry the same range of fines.
Ultimately, unless you fall within one of the exceptions noted above, current state and local law requires that you subscribe to garbage pickup.