Court stays Town of Winnsboro’s solid waste payments

WINNSBORO – The Town of Winnsboro is entitled to an order staying the requirement for payment of a monthly $63 per ton waste disposal fee to the Fairfield County government, Judge Brian Gibbons, Chief Administrative Judge for the Sixth Judicial Circuit ruled last week.

The stay was ordered until a final order of the Court determines if the Town must pay the fee at all.

Since April 2021, the Town has paid the County more than $300,000 in solid waste fees to cover its residents’ use of the county landfill.  That fee is being passed on to the residents, according to Winnsboro Town Manager Jason Taylor.

It was on April 26, 2021 that then-County Councilman Mikel Trapp motioned to insert the solid waste fee (for the Town) as a line item into the county budget, according to county council meeting minutes.

Councilwoman Shirley Greene seconded that motion, and then-Council Chair Moses Bell voted in favor of it.

On March 30, 2021, the Town of Winnsboro formally filed suit against the county, claiming in court papers that the county’s solid waste fee shouldn’t apply to Winnsboro town residents.

The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the $63 per ton fee is “invalid and illegal”, according to court documents.

The Town of Winnsboro also seeks a refund of any solid waste fees it has paid or will pay. The town agreed, under protest, to temporarily pay the fee on the condition that payments are held in trust pending disposition of the case, the suit states.

“If the Town wins the lawsuit,” Taylor said, “the fees paid to the County will be refunded by the Town to the Town of Winnsboro residents who are paying them.”

Taylor has said the county fee amounts to double billing of the town’s residents. The litigation makes the same argument.

According to a recording of a 2021 county council meeting, Councilman Neal Robinson, who was also on council at that time, expressed fear that the fee amounted to double charging of Winnsboro’s residents.

“A concern was brought to me by a few constituents that we’d possibly be charging county citizens who live in the city almost like double,” Robinson said. “If you kind of think about it, it is true. We typically don’t charge the citizens in the county for trash services.”

Fairfield County has enacted a commercial solid waste fee for years.

In its 2021-2022 budget, the county expanded the fee’s applicability to the town residents and the Fairfield County School District. Neither had previously been charged the $63 per ton fee.

“The County budget failed to set out the factual and legal basis upon which the solid waste fee to be charged the Town was established,” the lawsuit stated.

According to the suit, Fairfield County violated state law by not allowing the town to participate in development of the fee.

The Town cites sections of state law it says require the inclusion of local governments in developing solid waste plans. Failing to follow that process also explains why the court should invalidate the fee, the litigation stated.

Winnsboro’s lawsuit further notes the town conveyed real estate to the county in the furtherance of providing solid waste services. The County breached that agreement by “unilaterally” imposing the solid waste fee, according to the suit.

“The County has failed to act in good faith and deal fairly with the Town by failing to attempt to renegotiate any provision of the parties’ cooperative agreement,” the lawsuit stated.

Then-County Administrator Malik Whitaker has stated without evidence that Taylor (while he was county administrator prior to Whitaker’s tenure) “suggested, supported and approved this uniform user fee during his tenure as Fairfield County administrator.”

Taylor has denied ever creating or lobbying for the fee.

Judge Gibbons’ April 9, 2024 order to stay the payment of fees by the Town states that, “The Court’s order does not prejudice either party from addressing the legality of the monthly solid waste disposal fee at any subsequent hearing. The order also states that if the Court issues its final order declaring the monthly solid waste disposal fee to be lawful, the Town will be responsible for payment of any outstanding amounts incurred during the stay.

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