After a judge ruled against him on June 9 in a lawsuit against Gwinnett County over the trash plan, Loganville resident Verlin Gilliam said he intends to take his case to federal court.
“That’s if I can,” Gilliam said. “I still have to find out what the correct procedure is. I think I have to take the case to a federal district court under a Writ of Certiorari or an appeal to the state Supreme Court. From what I can see the judge thinks he ruled on the state constitution, but he didn’t rule on my complaint - he ruled on the way it was done.”
The county said in a press release Wednesday that Superior Court Judge Michael Clark had ruled that the county has the authority "to contract with private companies to provide trash serves and to charge the fees on the property tax bill and collect the fees as far in advance as is reasonably necessary."
Gilliam and his wife, Milagros Gilliam, filed the lawsuit against Gwinnett County and the five private residential haulers awarded contracts on July 16, 2010, the day after Gilliam received notification from the county the money was due. When he received his August mortgage bill, it already included the extra amount on his escrow account for the trash that had been billed by the county.
The county’s trash plan, which went into effect July 1 last year, billed residents for trash pick-up on their property tax bills, collecting the first payment for 18 months in advance.
“At the time I tried to find an attorney to handle the case for me – went to 11 different attorneys either by phone or in an office visit – and they all said it would be a conflict because they do business in Gwinnett County,” Gilliam said. “I even went to Dekalb County and the attorneys there said they have occasion to do business in Gwinnett County.”
As a result, Gilliam had to file on his own and he said that is what he believes cost him the lawsuit.
“I’m going to see if I can find an attorney who is prepared to take this on,” Gilliam said. “I’ve spoken to literally hundreds of my neighbors since this trash plan was instituted last year and nobody believes it is constitutional. I only ever found one man who said he was happy with it. It discriminates against anybody who has a mortgage.”
Gilliam said that is because banks holding escrow accounts are allowed to tag on an anticipatory fee based on the fact that the trash company, being a private entity, could raise the fee at any time. As a result, his trash bill has more than tripled since the implementation of Gwinnett County’s trash plan. This only applies to residents who pay property taxes through an escrow account, but Gilliam said many people couldn’t come up with the $321 for trash the county levied in advance in one hit. It was particularly hard on people living on a fixed income.
“I had one older lady sit at my dining room table and tell me she had no choice but to escrow it in because she didn’t have the money to pay it up front. Now she runs the risk of losing her home because she can’t afford the mortgage with the extra charges,” Gilliam said. “I went from paying $56 per quarter for trash pick-up to $57.04 a month extra on my mortgage. For anybody who doesn’t have a mortgage, it works out to only $17.86 a month. They were billed $321.21 for 18 months and mine works out to about $682 for 12 months. A man down the street from me said his mortgage went up by more than $100 a month. I don’t know why, but I can only think his bank levied a higher anticipatory fee.”
Gilliam said as he understands it, under Georgia law, it is unconstitutional to pass a law or an ordinance that discriminates against anyone and he believes the trash plan discriminates against anyone who carries a mortgage - or at least who runs an escrow account on that mortgage . He said he also believes the legal system that he tried to contest it through discriminates against anybody who is unable to hire legal council - whether for financial reasons or, as in his case, because so many attorneys have a conflict because of their work with the county.
“Anybody who isn’t learned in the correct procedure in the way the courts operate doesn’t have fair representation because the judge has to rule on the laws of procedure,” Gilliam said. “I believe that is what happened in my case.”
Gilliam wrote a letter to deliver to the judge Thursday and said he doesn’t plan on giving up. He said everyone benefits from the county's trash deal except for the citizens of Gwinnett County.
“The banks benefit because they get to charge the anticipatory fee; the haulers benefit because they have the county over a barrel on this; the county benefits because they get to bill all that money in advance and pay the haulers in arrears and we go from paying for our trash quarterly in arrears to having to pay 18 months in advance,” he said.
Although he initially believed he was alone in going up against the county over the trash plan, Gilliam said he has since learned from the media that there is another case pending. Robert Mesteller of Snellville also filed suit against the county over the current trash plan.