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Collecting garbage is a dirty job, and since 1994, it’s caused a real stink between the Marion County Fiscal Court and the owner of Brookhaven Trailer Park.
The county and Brookhaven Manor, Inc., have been in a legal battle since 1995, which finally came to a resolution recently.
The legal battle began in July of 1994, when Paul Howard Jr., Brookhaven trailer park operator, stopped paying garbage collection bills after his payments were modified when Marion County Judge/Executive Dave Hourigan took office.
According to court documents, Howard had made a verbal agreement with Marion County Judge/Executive Merle Mattingly in 1993. The two men had agreed that Howard would buy two dumpsters and have Brookhaven employees pick up the garbage and put it in the dumpsters. In return, the county would pick up the garbage for a flat fee of $250 per month.
When Hourigan took office in 1994, he determined that Brookhaven was the only trailer park owner in the county whose service charges were not being billed on a per dwelling basis. He notified Howard that beginning July 1, 1994, it would be charged on the same per-dwelling unit basis for collection of its garbage as were other trailer parks and residences in the county. Howard stopped making payments, however he sent a notice to all of his residents stating that he was increasing their rent an extra nine dollars a month to offset the county's charges. Yet, even after collecting the nine additional dollars from each resident, Howard refused to pay the garbage bill.
Since then, the matter has been stirring up a stink in court.
On May 7, Marion Circuit Judge Dan Kelly signed a judgment stating that Marion County is entitled to collect $98,207 from Brookhaven.
However, a compromise was reached between the county and Howard, considering the fact that Brookhaven would be entitled to including credits for unoccupied lots over the years, and discount credits for senior citizens, low income and disabled residents.
“While Brookhaven was probably entitled to some credits, it certainly wasn't enough to wipe out the entire debt,” Marion County Attorney Joe Mattingly wrote in an email to the Enterprise.
So, as a compromise, and to eliminate further appeals, a $30,000 settlement was reached, which was approved by magistrates during Thursday’s fiscal court meeting.
However, aside from the financial aspect of the case, two significant legal issues were decided in the county’s favor, which are now no longer subject to appeal, Mattingly said. The first is upholding the county's right to bill the owner of rental property for solid waste collection provided for the owner's tenants.
“This is significant because if we are required to run down all of the transient tenants in Brookhaven or other rental properties in the county we would rarely be able to run those transients down to collect anything,” Mattingly said.
The second legal issue that was ruled in the county’s favor is the ruling that groups of residents can't join together, develop their own collection system and reduce the per house rates.
“If that were permissible, like Brookhaven contended it was, nothing would keep the residents of, say, Rolling Hills, from getting together, buying a dumpster and depositing all of their garbage in the dumpster and being charged lower dumpster rates,” Mattingly said. “As Keith Brock explained at the trial, if all of the most densely populated areas of the county could ‘opt out’ of door-to-door pickup and billing, the cost to provide the pick up service to rural areas in the county would be prohibitive.”
Editor’s note: Calls to Lebanon attorney Elmer George, who represented Paul Howard, Jr., Brookhaven trailer park operator, were not returned as of press time.