Seniors support letter of law

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 15, 2001


PHOTO: St. John the Baptist Parish Council Secretary Audrey Millet pours through old ordinances trying to find a law that would take precedence over an ordinance stating senior citizens would only pay $5 for monthly garbage collection. (Staff Photo by Amy Szpara) LAPLACE – A slew of St. John the Baptist Parish senior citizens inundated the Service Center in LaPlace Monday morning with their driver’s licenses and solid waste bills in their hands. They were looking to fill out an application that would change their monthly garbage collection bills from more than $10 to $5, but were instead given only $1 off of what they currently pay. According to several Service Center employees, more than 50 seniors stopped by before lunchtime, and they were interested in getting the deal that comes from a 1986 ordinance, which appeared to be a revelation to most at Thursday night’s parish council meeting. The ordinance, which reads, “Upon application and proof of age, a fee of five dollars ($5.00) per month will be charged to any head of household who is sixty-two (62) years or older (Senior Citizen). (Ord. No. 86-2, 1-23-86…),” was discussed at the meeting when Chairman Cleveland Farlough brought up concern over the affects that ever-growing garbage collection costs have on seniors. The special meeting, which was held to vote on a rate adjustment for the new garbage services provided by Waste Management, Inc., quickly turned into a short debate on seniors’ rates. While discussing an amendment to the proposed $13 a month fee to residents, which knocked 35 cents off the fee, Farlough questioned the senior citizens discount. Jeff Clement, chief financial officer for the parish, said that years earlier the council passed an ordinance whereby seniors would get a $1 a month discount on the solid waste monthly fee. According to the meeting minutes, “Chairman Farlough stated it is his understanding the senior citizens would pay $5.00 (a) period. Mr. Clement asked to recess to review the ordinance.” When the meeting reconvened, Farlough read the section and noted the important part of the question, which states that upon proof of age, people 62 years old and older would only pay $5. Farlough asked for an interpretation from Attorney Barry Landry, legal counsel, who said the ordinance “reads pretty clear.” He added he was uninformed about the various amendments and he was not sure how it had been billed for the past several years. “Obviously, when this was passed, it was the intent the fee would be $5,” he said, but added there were amendments. “It does read $5 per month charge for any head of household 62 years or older.” According to the minutes, “Chairman Farlough stated if administration is actually charging senior citizens no more than $5.00 that makes him look at this ordinance (the amended adjustment to new garbage rates) in another light.” The council voted against the amended adjustment to the new garbage rate twice, as Councilman Duaine Duffy asked for a reconsideration of the motion and the council voted a second time. Councilman Dale Wolfe said, according to the minutes, “The only good thing that came out of this is the senior citizens, that is the plus,” and he added that he would apprise the elderly residents of the $5 fee. The problem, according to Chief Administrative Assistant Chris Guidry, is the intent of the $5 fee ordinance differs from the interpretation of some of the council members. “All of the words in 10:75 were not adopted at the same time,” he said. “The way the ordinance has been enforced is by cutting $1 off the fee.” Guidry said in 1986 when the ordinance was written the garbage collection cost was just $6, and the council then voted for seniors to pay $1 less than that fee, which is where the question of a $1 discount comes in. The intent in 1986 was to subtract $1 from the garbage collection fee. “We have always charged seniors a dollar less. That’s the way it’s been applied. The intent was to not pass the dollar increase on to the seniors,” Guidry said. Guidry added the ordinance is “technically inaccurate. They don’t think 10 years down the road. We’re up to $12 now, and it says $5. A fee of $5 for what?” he asked, referring to the wording. “A fee for collection? For disposal? The can? What? The real problem is how ordinances are being written.” Farlough, who voted to pass the $12.65 new garbage fee based on the information that senior citizens would be protected from increases because of the senior ordinance, said, “If the ordinance is on the books, and I read it out loud at the meeting, then they have to enforce it. Not only did I read it out loud, but I asked for legal counsel’s interpretation, and he said it seemed very clear.” According to Farlough, he has always been concerned the seniors in the community have expenses such as medical prescriptions and other costs that are burdensome, and he wanted to help them with the garbage rate increases as much as possible. “I saw the ordinance, and I said, If you want $12.65, and will enforce the senior citizen rate, then I’ll vote for it,'” said Farlough. “I didn’t base my vote on the intent. You can’t go out and say this is the intent. They have to go by the law. I go by what it is. If the intent is bad or wrong, administration needs to correct it.” Councilman Allen St. Pierre said, “There is no way we can charge seniors $5. We wouldn’t be able to pay Waste Management. Instead of a $13 fee, we would have to charge $20.” He added he would like to pass an ordinance that allows seniors a $2 discount in the near future. Parish Council Secretary Audrey Millet spent time Monday afternoon looking through the books to determine if there was ever an ordinance written between 1986 and now that would take precedence over the previous law. “Now we have to look at every ordinance to see if that one changed. I haven’t found an ordinance yet. If a motion passed, it won’t do the trick. It has to be an ordinance,” she said. According to Millet if no other ordinance canceled out the $5 fee, then it is up to administration to enforce the law. As of Monday afternoon, she had not located any newer ordinance. “The only language in any ordinance increases the cost, but never mentions the seniors,” she said. Millet added that if no ordinance was written to abolish the $5 rate to seniors, then the parish council could quickly write one. The council was expected to discuss the new garbage rate, and to possibly discuss the senior ordinance, at Tuesday night’s meeting.