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St. Louis County Residents Forced to Pay For Recycling After Court Loss

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Paying for recycling services is not optional, says the Missouri Appellate Court.
A group of St. Louis County residents has lost another round in its effort to opt out of a recycling service -- and the quarterly fees that go with it.

Today's appeals court decision is the latest (and possibly final) setback in the residents' two-year effort to resist a county ordinance requiring them to pay for-profit companies Veolia ES Solid Waste Midwest, IESI Mo. Corp. and Allied Services LLC to provide recycling services, whether or not they actually recycle.

The citizens, who live in an unincorporated area of St. Louis County, had argued that they could be subject to fines or even imprisonment if they did not pay the private companies -- making the fees, in essence, a tax, and therefore a violation of the state's Hancock Amendment, which requires voter approval before any new levy or fee.
The appellate court disagreed.

Today's decision comes after a series of losses for the county residents. They initially filed in St. Louis County circuit court in 2009 and lost there. (The trial court judge found that the recycling charges were not taxes under the Hancock Amendment.) The residents appealed, and while the appellate court judges said they too were likely to rule against them, they transferred the case to the Missouri Supreme Court.

The supreme court sent the suit back to the appellate court in light of its ruling in a different case challenging the trash fees, Weber v. St. Louis County. In that case it ruled for the county.

In its ruling this morning, the appellate court issued a series of decisions that doom the residents' case. They ruled that the fees were not a tax because it was paid to private companies and not the government. They also ruled charges for recycling were not unreasonable: "The [county's] Waste Management Code specifically allowed the Waste Haulers to charge a reasonable fee for recycling service as part of waste hauling." And even though the residents did not request recycling services, the appellate judges found, they had to pay them.

So, the moral of the story? You're going to get stuck paying for recycling service anyway in St. Louis County -- you might as well use it.

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