Mayor vetoes commercial waste substitute
By Philip Moulden
Tupelo Mayor Jack Marshall on Thursday vetoed two City Council measures attempting to rewrite a commercial waste ordinance that imposes a $98,500 annual fee for hauling rights beginning today.
Ward 7 Councilman Danny Barrows, who led Tuesday’s vote to reduce that fee, said he will attempt to gain an override of the mayor’s vetoes at the council’s next meeting Feb. 6. It would take six votes to override, one more vote than Barrows could count on as of midweek.
Opponents of the $98,500 yearly fee, approved by the council Dec. 19, contend it perpetuates a commercial hauling monopoly by Waste Management Inc.
A spokesman for a waste disposal company seeking to move into the commercial market said his client will also seek legal action to block the vetoes, or will sue the city to overturn what he termed an exorbitant and illegal tax on the right to do business.
Ben Logan, attorney for Browning-Ferris Industries, contended the high franchise fee is designed solely to keep other companies from competing with Waste Management.
Waste Management was granted a “non-exclusive” commercial franchise in a 1983 contract under which it collects and disposes of the city’s residential garbage. In turn for the commercial franchise, Waste Management has been paying the city at least $95,000 a year.
But it can halt that payment if another hauler is permitted to enter the market. The contract runs through July 1999.
In his veto message, Marshall said the council was not presented documentation Tuesday to support Barrows’ motion to rescind the Dec. 19 vote.
“Additionally, I am of the belief that the most revenue to be produced to the city is from the ordinance as passed on Dec. 19, 1995, and the action of the council in rescinding that ordinance would ultimately cost the city of Tupelo money,” Marshall wrote.
The mayor said he vetoed Barrows’ substitute measure – which set a franchise fee of $10,000 a year plus 5 percent of haulers’ revenues – because it was not properly presented. In light of his veto of the recension, the substitute would also create conflicting laws on one subject, the mayor said.
Logan charged the mayor’s veto message makes clear the ordinance is a “revenue measure,” essentially a tax that is not authorized under state law and has been ruled unlawful by the state attorney general. Franchise fees governing a right to conduct business must be “reasonable” and not exceed the costs of enforcing the ordinance, Logan contended.
“It’s clear the city does not have the authority to impose such a tax, and they will lose in court,” he said.
“It defies any rational or logical explanation …,” Logan added of the mayor’s vetoes. “I’ve never been able to understand why Waste Management is singled out for the type of preferential treatment they get at City Hall.”
Barrows claimed Thursday that even Waste Management officials agree his proposal could raise more money than the Dec. 19 ordinance. The only question would be whether Waste Management would refuse to pay any fee based on its contract.
Barrows said he did not ask, but said Waste Management had given him no indication it would refuse to comply with the provisions of his substitute ordinance.
“They told me they’re here to do business in Tupelo … they want to serve the community,” he said.