Some garbage rates could rise after ruling

By Bill Coats, Times Staff Writer
Published March 1, 2008

TAMPA - A recent court ruling could lead to higher residential garbage rates in unincorporated Hillsborough County.

The ruling by Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal confirmed that Hillsborough can't enforce part of an ordinance that gives three waste haulers exclusive rights to haul debris from houses that are being built. In exchange for that right, since 1997 the haulers have accepted bargain rates for picking up garbage from existing homes.

But the exclusive rights weren't enforced. As home building slowed, Hillsborough's three so-called franchise haulers complained of competition from independent haulers. One of the independents challenged the ordinance, and last year a judge ruled part of it was too vague.

In November, Hillsborough County's attorneys tried to amend the ordinance to make it enforceable. But county commissioners voted that down 4-3, bowing to the independents.

"Do you want to put these people out of business?" asked Bill Taylor, the attorney who won the court case for independent hauler Creative Concrete. "Or do you want to foster free and open competition?"

Hank Ennis, a managing attorney for the county, said Hillsborough started contacting the franchise haulers after the Feb. 22 appeals court ruling to open talks on changing their contract. Although county officials warned last year of higher residential rates, Ennis said other concessions are possible, such as simplifying regulations or extending the contract. It expires in 2013.

"Whatever it takes to satisfy them," Ennis said. "There are a lot of things that are going to be on the table."

The franchise haulers estimate their losses in the tens of millions of dollars.

"They are being financially damaged," said Steve Anderson, an attorney for franchise hauler Waste Services of Florida. "They are going to have to be getting some compensation for that."

Bill Coats can be reached at coats@sptimes.com or 813 269-5309.