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Companies threaten to haul county to court

By BILL VARIAN
Published June 7, 2007


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TAMPA - Jerry and Debra Crist have a husband-and-wife-team business hauling concrete, electrical wire and other trash from construction sites.

Until recently, they say they were even on a list of contractors approved by Hillsborough County to haul junk from property cited for code violations.

Now the county is calling the business that has made them a modest living for six years illegal.

"How can you call our name to pick things up then say what we're doing is illegal?" asked Debra Crist.

The Crists joined dozens of other people who overflowed from the commission chambers at County Center Wednesday in protest against a proposed crackdown on such businesses. They say they're being unfairly targeted in a way that could put them and their employees out of work.

County officials say the three large companies that collect residential garbage in unincorporated areas have the exclusive right to compete for contracts to pick up commercial waste under 11-year-old agreements with each.

They say that in exchange for lower than typical prices for residential service, they county has given them sole right to haul commercial garbage. And that includes construction and demolition debris.

Pressed by those companies - Waste Management of Tampa, Waste Services Inc. and Republic Waste Services - the county has begun enforcing the provision.

But a Circuit Court judge recently ruled that the county law that undergirds agreements with the haulers is not so clear about who may pick up construction waste. So commissioners are considering whether they need to clarify the ordinance.

But some commissioners say this will put countless small businesses out of work by enforcing something that hasn't been a problem for more than a decade.

"It looks to me that it's just three big companies trying to squash these guys, " Commissioner Al Higginbotham said to loud applause.

He and Commissioner Rose Ferlita also objected to threats of lawsuits from representatives of their three contractual haulers if the county doesn't enforce the rules, including a letter from a lawyer for Waste Services sent to board members Wednesday.

Steve Anderson, who wrote the letter, says the company does not want to sue the county, but a deal's a deal. Ferlita and Higginbotham, as past and current business owners, should understand the importance of honoring an agreement, he said.

"While I appreciate the spirit of the moment in a room filled with people, I know they also appreciate and understand the importance of a contract, " Anderson said.

Hillsborough commissioners voted 4-3 to postpone a decision without taking public comment, to the displeasure of many who had taken time away from work to attend the meeting. Commissioners Ferlita, Higginbotham and Brian Blair voted to go ahead and hear what the public had to say.

County Attorney Renee Lee said county officials would meet with representatives of the independent haulers and those with whom the county has contracts to see if there's a solution that satisfies everyone. She said she believes the agreements allow exemptions for people to haul away garbage if they are the ones who created it, such as by taking down a shed in someone's yard.

"My position is if you make the garbage, you can move the garbage, " Lee said.

The issue is scheduled to return to the commission July 19.

Bill Varian can be reached at 813 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com

[Last modified June 7, 2007, 01:25:14]


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