Appellate court rules county recycling fees don’t violate state’s Hancock Amendment

Fees associated with the county’s recycling program do not violate the Missouri Constitution’s Hancock Amendment, a state appellate court ruled last week.

The Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals on Sept. 13 affirmed a county circuit court’s dismissal of a 2009 class-action lawsuit by four unincorporated county residents against the county and haulers Allied Waste, IESI and Veolia Environmental Services.

Plaintiffs Ana McDonald, of Affton; Lucille Degeare, of Spanish Lake; David Birtley, of Breckenridge Hills; and James Grace, of Fenton; alleged the recycling charges they pay their hauler are “taxes” and are not permitted under the state Constitution’s Hancock Amendment, which requires voter approval before political subdivisions can levy any new tax.

County officials and the haulers argue the recycling charges aren’t taxes because the county does not receive the proceeds from them.

The appellate panel agreed last week.

“The fee was not paid to the county and was not subject to appropriation,” judges Gary Gaertner, Jr., Mary Hoff and Patricia Cohen wrote in their opinion. “The waste haulers, not the county, provided this service to the residents.”

The panel wrote that while the county’s waste management code authorized the County Council to select waste haulers to provide a minimum level of service — including recycling — to residents in eight trash districts, “the actual amount of the fee the residents paid was determined by the level of service actually provided.”

“Furthermore, the waste haulers were not the agent or instrumentality through which the county charged fees for waste removal,” the judges wrote.

Circuit Court Judge Colleen Dolan in March 2010 granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case, and attorneys for the plaintiffs appealed the following month.

The appellate court transferred the suit to the state Supreme Court in May, but the high court sent it back last month after ruling in another case that the county’s trash districts did not need voter approval.