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Published: Friday, 2/29/2008

Lawsuit challenges trash fee in Toledo

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Shanahan Shanahan
HANDOUT NOT BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

A former candidate for Toledo City Council sued the city yesterday, demanding that the nearly year-old garbage-collection fee be reversed and residents be reimbursed.

Karen Shanahan filed the lawsuit in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, claiming the city enacted "wrongful taxation" when the Finkbeiner administration imposed "an additional tax to collect refuse without the approval of Toledo City Council and without the approval of voters."

Calling the fee a classic case of "taxation without representation," Ms. Shanahan said yesterday she is asking the court to grant a permanent injunction against the fee and order that the money be refunded to residents.

"If they don't have enough money for refuse collection, then go to the voters and ask for more money," she said. "If the voters say no, then you cut your expenses."

The $5.50 monthly trash fee was enacted last year as part of the 2007 general operating fund budget and will expire April 30 unless council renews it.

Ms. Shanahan's lawsuit was filed two days after City Council approved an ordinance that requires specific council action to collect a refuse fee after the current one expires.

Councilman Joe McNamara, who introduced the ordinance that was approved by council this week, said he could not comment on Ms. Shanahan's lawsuit because it was pending litigation.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's proposed 2008 budget depends on $4.8 million to be collected from the trash fee this year.

Despite council's action taking authority to impose a fee out of the administration's hands, Ms. Shanahan said her lawsuit contends that the only way a fee can be enacted legally is if Toledo voters approve it.

"[Council members] are saying that if this is going to be passed, it has to be by the right legislative body and I'm saying that the only legislative body that has the right to pass this is the voters," she said. "If you want this kind of fee, then put it where it belongs, on a ballot before the voters."

Ms. Shanahan noted in the lawsuit that the garbage fee went into effect May 28, 2007, and that the fees are imposed on most residents in the city.

The lawsuit further states that residents who do not pay the fee face penalties by the city that include the termination of water service or possibly the placement of a lien on the property.

Although there are more than 100,000 housing units in the city, the lawsuit pertains only to those that pay the fee, Ms. Shanahan said.

At least one city official was skeptical of the lawsuit's merit, however.

"The plaintiff, an unsuccessful candidate in the last City Council race, has alleged that the city's current garbage fee is illegal. Interestingly, she did not raise this issue when she campaigned for City Council," said Toledo Law Director John Madigan in an e-mail through city spokesman Katerina Bekyarska.

"Initial review of the complaint leads to the conclusion that it is politically motivated and utterly devoid of merit," he said in the e-mail.

"The city will take appropriate action in response to this suit and is confident that it will prevail in any court proceedings."

Staff writer Kate Giammarise contributed to this report.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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