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Can You Still Fight City Hall And Win?

By David Bakke

fight city governmentThere is this phrase from long ago that you can’t fight city hall and win. Well, I am in the process of finding out if this is still true. Normally, my posts are geared towards providing you with some little “pearl of wisdom” that you can incorporate into your everyday lives in order to either save money, spend less, or generate extra income in some way.

This article is more of the interactive type. I am asking for your help as much as I am providing information. I would love to see a wealth of comments or suggestions at the end, because I have never done this before, and have no idea if I am wasting my time or not. Better yet, I have no idea if I can win. But, that will not stop me from trying.

The Facts

In a nutshell, the county that I live in is forcing me to use the services of a waste disposal company. I live in an unincorporated area of the county, and I am not sure but I think that has a lot to do with it. It is not just me; it is everyone in my neighborhood. They recently sent out letters to everyone telling them of the “change” and rates and everything else. The county tried this very tactic about a year ago, and such an uproar was raised about it, that it just went away. They never went through with their plan. This year, it’s a different story. 

Personally, I do not pay for trash pickup and I never have, mostly on the grounds that I think it is ridiculous to pay for something that we never had to pay for when I was growing up.  Back then I am assuming it was paid for out of property taxes of some sort. I am wondering when this changed. Regardless, I have never paid for trash pickup, but have always disposed of my trash in a legal, clean, and ethical manner. Our household recycles as much as it possibly can. The resulting trash probably totals about one small plastic grocery bag full each day. This trash I dispose of at my place of business with permission.

The neighbors that I talked to are still up in arms about this, because I am assuming that the rates of the new company are substantially higher than the company they we were previously using. This company is charging $17.86 per month for a basic service. It does not include yard waste. To get this picked up, you have to pay an additional $10 a month. I believe there are other “extras” as well that require additional money. I just don’t understand how this is legal, ethical or even possible that the county can force me to do this. They don’t force me to have water service, electrical service, or cable television. How is garbage pickup any different?

The Fight

I began with calling the new garbage disposal company. They had nothing to do with it, or so they claimed, and they could not help me at all regarding my attempts to cancel my service. From there, I called The Solid Waste and Recycling Division of my county. They were not very friendly at all. They said that “opting out” was not an option.

I asked in a very friendly tone what would happen if I did not pay the bill. Their knee-jerk response was that my trash bin would be picked up and I would not have the service (I think you can tell this was a government employee I was talking to). I responded by saying that was the goal I was trying to accomplish, since I did not want the service to begin with.

They put me on hold for several minutes, finally came back on and said that if I refused to pay my bill, after a certain period of time the county could place a lien on my property. At that point, I got off the phone with them. I figured that route was a dead end, but it was good information to know. I recently emailed our County Board of Commissioners asking for more help, but I received no answer.

Your Help

So now, you have all the information you need. As I stated in the beginning, I need your help. The following questions come to mind:

  • Where do I go from here?
  • Can I win this?
  • Is what they are doing even legal?


I will continue the battle; I am just not sure where to go. One idea I thought of was to pay the bill with a credit card and then dispute the charge with my credit card company. I figured at the very least, if they were going to get this money out of me, I could make it as difficult as possible for them.

This charge equates into an extra $215 per year. While I am fortunate enough to be able to pay this fee, how will this affect the people that simply can’t afford it? What if it came down to a matter of paying this bill, or putting an extra $215 worth of food on the table every year for one’s family? I am mad, I am perplexed, and I am ready to fight. I am just not sure where to take my fight.

If anyone has any good suggestions regarding any aspect of this situation, I would love to hear about it below.

(photo credit: nostri-imago)

David Bakke
David started his own personal finance blog, YourFinances101, in June of 2009 and published his first book on ways to save more and spend less called "Don't Be A Mule..." Since then he has been a regular contributor for Money Crashers. He lives just outside Atlanta, GA and most all of his free time is taken up by his amazing three year old son, Nicholas.

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Comments

  • Karmella

    I would think of contacting a councilperson or another similar official – I would go elected official’s office. Handwritten letter or in person visit seem more effective to me. All the better if you could get support from your neighbors. An op-ed piece in a local paper, see if there are any groups you can think of in your area that would be likely to support the cause.

    I would suggest being prepared to answer questions like what if no one paid, why should only some households pay, how would the trash company know that trash should not be picked up from a non-paying address, etc

    I don’t know a lot about credit card disputing charges, but I think this might be a little too philosophical for that.

    • David

      Karmella

      Thanks so much for your advice.

      You’re right, and I am in the process of trying to find exactly who the right person is to direct my dissatisfaction.

      Also, I just found out that I’ll be billed in one lump sum for servcies through the year 2011!

      Wonderful, isn’t it?

      • Stugguls

        I would research some case law on the subject. Once you pay for the service you opt in to the system, a contract is binding, except this would be by adhesion. I’m having the same problem, forced garbage pick up and am infuriated over the proposition. It’s tough to fight city hall, but I suspect someone has and won? I told them under no uncertain terms would I pay the bill they sent me and to go ahead and lien my home. I may come to regret this but for now I am looking for a way out. These are the days of big brother, health care, and declining revenues, and I suspect we will have more of this in our future. As a collective we will need to fight these intrusions into our lives.

        • Davidbakke

          Awesome feedback here–thanks! If anyone has fought City Hall and won, I’d love to hear about it. Good luck with your case!

    • Mike Z

      Q: What if nobody paid?
      A: Then nobody would get the service.

      Q: What if only some pay?
      A: Then only some would get the service.

      Q: How would the trash company know which trash should not be picked up?
      A: The same way the newspaper company does it. Only subscribers get the paper. Non subscribers don’t.

      Questions for you to ask them…

      What is so terrible about me having a choice in who my garbage disposal company is?

      What gives you the right to take away my freedom to make choices as an educated consumer?

      What right do you have to force me to buy a service I do not want or need?

      • David

        Mike

        Excellent excellent points–I will incorporate them into my fight.

        Thanks!!!

  • Ellen Shullaw

    We are also facing the mandatory garbage pick-up in our county in California. Am hoping that I will be able to learn from your experience, when they bring it up again up.

    • David

      Ellen

      If I had more time I can assure you that I would start a grassroots effort to fight this thing (i.e. peition, something of that nature).

      Unfortunately, time doesn’t allow it.

  • csdx

    As far as I know only large apartment complexes are the residential areas excepted from city garbage collection (out here), and they have to pay for a company to do it for them anyways.

    I can see some arguments from the public health perspective for it, I’d rather everyone have trash collected than someone’s house becoming a health hazard for the entire neighborhood because they don’t have the means to dispose of it. It’s likely (what with this recession and all) that they’re passing along the costs because it was that or cut some sort of school/fire/police service.

    Ok side issue: The argument from tradition (“It was free when I was a kid”) is a logical fallacy, just because it’s always been one way doesn’t imply whether it was good or not. The record with pollution back then wasn’t all that stellar cough*charles river*. /peeve /hippy

    So here’s the question, do you have any alternate means of disposal, e.g. is there a dump/landfill you can cart your waste to (or did the county close that too?), or can you incinerate/compost/recycle your trash? If you can say that you’re able to dispose of your trash properly, then it makes a better argument.

    Over here there’s something similar with sewer. Either you need to be connected to the city system or have a septic system installed. And if the city decides an area becomes populated enough to hook up to the sewer system, all the connected houses have to pay an initial connection fee (added to the property taxes over the next several years). I don’t think you can refuse to be connected given that part of reason was that there were a critical mass of people there to make it worthwhile. So if half refused it’d make it prohibitively expense for either the city or the other property owners. Similarly trash collection needs volume to be profitable to the company. The way your leaders probably see it is as a public good for the whole county, not a neighborhood by neighborhood issue.

    If you are concerned about the charge being a burden to some, ask them to at least put in financial hardship exemptions from the fee (if they’re any good at their job it should already be there).

    So regarding the legality of it, it’s legal if they passed the bill and it doesn’t conflict with any higher legislation. If you want to fight for just yourself, I’d look at exceptions in the actual piece of legislation and see if you can fit into those categories. Otherwise try collectively hiring a lawyer to see if she thinks you can fight the law, but it’s doubtful as counties and states have less restrictions on the laws they can make than Congress does.

    Though I’m betting even if you do win, the response would likely just be to raise property taxes (or whatever tax is associated with garbage pickup), or cut services elsewhere (budgets don’t balance themselves). In the last city I lived in, they charged you by selling special trash bags for a buck a piece. So if you made a lot of trash you paid more (recycling bins were picked up free).

    • David

      Great, well-thought out argument.

      Especially the hardship exemption.

      I plan on mentioning that.

      Thanks a lot!!!

  • Mike Z

    I bought a house in October 2009 using the $8k first time home buyer credit. The purchase price of my house also included personal property that I negotiated to get from the seller.

    Through a clerical error, the value of the personal property was never reported on any official form. 2009 Property taxes were due in December/January following the purchase price on the home and I was responsible for paying the full amount of all of the 2009 calendar year even though I only lived there for 2.5 months…which was fair…except the taxes were based on a value 26% higher than my purchase price (determined by the assessor in April of 2009). It was not something I could legally challenge.

    Fast forward a few months to around spring 2010. The new assessment from the tax man is given to me. Guess what? It’s STILL 15% higher than my purchase price.

    I challenged the assessor and he decided against me. I appealed to the Board of Review. I spent HOURS upon HOURS preparing. I researched data on all 55 homes on my block. I found that everybody else saw a 10% decrase in their value but I was the only one with a 14% increase. I was sure the Board of Review would agree with me, and if not, at least partially agree. They did not. They did not throw me one bone. Their position is that all my prep work, facts, figures, documents, etc was not evidence to prove the assessor wrong because the assesor had a model that determined my house was worth more than what I paid for it.

    • David

      Mike

      That is an absolute bunch of crap. What happened to you, that is.

      We elect these fools, don’t we??

      Shouldn’t they be fighting FOR us, instead of doing their best to stick it to us?

      Your story has soured me a little, but at least now I am prepared for the worst.

      Thanks for weighing in

    • Mike Z

      Actually, no – the City Assessor is an unelected employee of the city. The Board of Review is a group of members that were appointed to their positions, not elected.

      They do not represent us, the little people. They represent who ever they think will help themselves the most – not the people they are supposed to represent.

      • David

        Mike,

        Sounds like you may have found out that little tidbit the hard way. I myself am also finding out a lot of this the hard way as well.
        And you are right on point, these people represent their own self-interests, plain and simple.

  • http://ozarkscrescentmural.blogspot.com/ Victoria – Ozarks Crescent Mural/My Freelance Road Trip

    I would literally physically show up at City Hall and talk to everyone there. You should be able to get some answers that way. And you may even find the person that holds the power to help you solve the problem. You may try contacting the State Attorney General’s office too. And if you’ve got any lawyer friends, I’d talk to them and get their ideas. And try Googling your dilemma to see what other’s have tried. Good luck. I hope you get it. I really hate that sort of thing, so I’m on your side.

    • David

      Victoria:

      That’s definitely an option, although I think this decision was governed by the county that I live in and not the city, so I’ll have to look into it to see where is the best place to go.

      But you’ve offered up some great options–I really apppreciate it!

  • http://ozarkscrescentmural.blogspot.com/ Victoria – Ozarks Crescent Mural/My Freelance Road Trip

    Oh, and I forgot to add that I wouldn’t charge it to your credit card and then dispute it. That’s deceptive, so very uncool.

    I know in my neighborhood, people choose whatever company they want to pick up their garbage or no company at all, so either the city/county, a private company, or do-it-yourself, so you’ll see different garbage bins on our streets or none at all at some homes.

    • David

      Vicotira:

      You’re abosultey right, and I do not plan on doing that. That thought just crossed my mind when I was at my maddest!

  • Charlie

    Well i totally feel for you, my hearing with my city is on July 20th for the same thing, If you came up with any good ideas please let me know, cause this is ridiculous. Where does a local government decide what services we need. What are they gonna do next tell us where to grocery shop and what doctor we should go to. Uh oh, I hope I didn’t just stumble upon something……

  • david

    Charlie

    Everything I’ve tried so far has fallen on deaf ears.

    It was “passed” is all I get. And they make no exceptions.

    The only other thing I can think of at this point is to contact a lawyer and see if he wants to dig into it on a pro bono type basis

    Keep me posted on how your deal turns out…and sorry for taking so long to get back to you.

  • sws

    going through the same thing right now.the town i live in has decieded that i need to have the trash service that i have’nt had for 10 years.i trying to find a solution.i think the solution lies in the difference between essential service such as police ,fire and water.trash service is not essential.what if the town decided to furnish dsl or telephone service(some apt buildings do).you don’t have to buy the service,but if you do want telephone service you have to buy it from them.stay in touch and let me know if you find a solution.seems a violation of my civil rights or at least my civil freedom

    • David

      Hey there

      I definitely thought it was a violation of my civil rights as well, I just couldn’t get anybody to listen to me.

      So here I am, stuck paying for a service that I neither need or want.

      Good luck to you with your situation, though, and thanks for commenting!

  • hope

    Thank You Very Much for Your Insight. The situation I am up against is a little different though. My Mother’s sewer is screwed up. We have for many years just sumped it which costs us around $300 and never ever had a problem passing site inspections. However, to reroute the septic tank and get a permit costs us $5,000 which we don’t have since I am unemployed with nothing coming in and she is only making $8.35 an hour part time and is on using her benefits from her other company to try to support both of us while I am in college and looking for an internship. The whole reason the site inspector came to our property in the first place was to inspect our new well that just got fixed. The BOSS did not do the job he was payed to do! In the process, she saw that we had a problem with our sewer. My mother said she’d sump it because that was all she could afford. The site inspector said that would be good enough to pass the inspection. But then my mother received a notice from lake county and the receptionist she talked to on the 1-800 number had an attitude and told her she had to be out the $5,000 for the rerouting of the septic tank and the permit. So the most helpful information you gave me in this case was that they can pay for all or most of the expense via tax payers property taxes and failing that, they can give me financial hardship exemptions for the fee. What do you think?

  • Tommy Z

    Hope – I think you should threaten to sue them for violating your 4th amendment rights. They inspected something without permission or a court ordered warrant.

    • http://www.moneycrashers.com David/moneycrashers

      Hope and Tommy

      Man Hope, that’s a tough one!

      I’m with Tommy, sue ‘em!!!

      Thanks for joining in!!!

  • Bernadette Howard

    Hi, I have the same problem about a year or two age we had recycle pick up free. The Village of Vernon Hills decided they can’t pay for it any more and put it to the tax payers. It was made mandatory that the households will bare the cost of the recycling pickup. I called the Village and didn’t get anywhere. I called Veolia Service and the told me if I refused to pay for the service of recycling my trash service would stop too. Even though I would continue to pay for trash pickup. I told them it was unconstitutional what they are doing. What give them the right. I I told them I recycle and I get the cash for my recycling and your taking the money right out of my hands. I’m not working and I try cutting back to save. I not getting anywhere either add me to your list. Why should I have to pay let alone give them and pay them for money I can pay other bills with? Help put me on your list to fight. This is totally wrong. As far as the one question . How will the trash pick up know if no to pick up the recycling take their recycling can back. When my children were little had a lot more trash . There are only the two of us pickup only once a week from two . We don’t make as much as we use to . I’m on your side.

  • JC

    I have the exact same questions about this very issue! Is this a current problem for you? I don’t know how old your post is. I lost 3 uncles and a brother who died to protect freedom and liberty. In our case the house that the city opened a garbage account for is not even occupied. I have actually ALMOST paid the stupid bill just to avoid the hassle, but would feel too guilty to do that. I feel that for too long people have, in good faith, tried to “go along to get along”…and this has helped contribute to the mess our country is in now. Freedom is not free….and at some point we do need to do our part to stand up for it. It is beyond ridiculous that a group of elected officials can open an account that we are expected to pay…on something we have never used and do not need….In fact, if they decide what we need to buy, I fear that our finances will end up as messed up as theirs are! I have tried to talk and reason with everyone involved in this since last year…and have not gotten it resolved yet. This should not be legal, but if it is, we have lost significant personal and economic liberty!

    • Davidbakke

      JC

      The post was written awhile back, but I never had any luck. So now I have an additional $215 tacked on to my property tax bill for a service I don’t need.

      Thanks for commenting, our other readers will appreciate it.

  • Smith889169

    I am possibly facing a similar problem but not trash pick up. My house was built in the 60s and we bought it in 2010. We have a well and septic tank. Now the city, which we don’t actually live in, is considering a public water/sewer system. I don’t want to be on their system but am told that each homeowner will have to pay for the initial hook up whether they want or need the service or not. Does anyone know if there are any grandfather clauses that may apply or can we opt out?

  • csc

    i am a landlord and do not pay for the water used by tenants but must pay there waste water bill, i did not ask for this service, do not want it can not regulate the usage but if i don’t pay a lean will go against my property, i have contacted my rep and went to council meetings and asked them to change billing to the person using the service. my reps did nothing, so i know how you feel. this is not a free country anymore.

  • david

    File civil suit, educ. these greedy crooks that the city ordinace violates your constitutional rights, which trumps anything. Gooberments dabble in multiple laws to keep people confused. People submit to these man-made crooked laws & become subject to punishment when they submit. Besides, judicial, trust, etc. law doesnt consider constitutional rights during their proceeding, thats wht ” We ” are railroaded, but if a person turns around & files civil suit & claim rights violation, watch how fast the roaches run !

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