Reading can collect recycling fee, Berks County Court judge finds
Saturday December 6, 2014 12:01 AM
It’s the second time the city of Reading has been taken to court over a $92 annual recycling fee, but this time, the court ruled in the city’s favor.
Berks County Court Judge Madelyn S. Fudeman ruled Friday that the city can collect the recycling fee.
In her ruling, Fudeman wrote, “Without the fee, maintaining the recycling program would be impossible.”
Reading’s recycling program costs the city between $2.4 million and $2.8 million to maintain. About 90 percent of that funding comes from the recycling fee.
In June, five city residents filed suit in Berks County Court, stating that the fee was illegal.
The residents – Alan Ziegler, Nicolas Bene, Lissette Chevalier, Jose Munoz and Efrain Caban – based their lawsuit on several prior Commonwealth Court decisions, including the first recycling fee suit.
The city claimed that it has the authority as a home rule municipality and as a third-class city to impose the fee.
The city started the recycling program to comply with state laws to relieve overburdened landfills, including Act 101.
“On one hand, Act 101 does not explicitly permit or prohibit subject municipalities to charge a curbside recycling fee for recycling services,” the decision stated. “On the other hand, the purpose of Act 101 is to promote and encourage waste reduction and recycling.”
Act 101 allows for the city to market and sell recyclable material as well as apply for grants to fund its recycling program.
Fudeman said in the decision, no other municipalities with similar recycling programs can maintain their programs based on the sale of recyclables and grants, and opting out of the program was not a feasible option. Reading’s recycling program was compared to programs in Bethlehem, Lancaster, York, Allentown, Wilkes-Barre and Scranton.
“None of the cities can solely rely on grants and recyclable sale revenues to cover the costs of their mandated recycling programs,” the decision stated.
Fudeman said in court documents that even if the city stopped collecting the fee and dismantled the recycling program, the city collects about 20,000 tons of recyclables that would get added to the garbage collection. It would lead to higher garbage collection fees, she wrote.
The residents could appeal to the Commonwealth Court, which has already ruled in their favor in the past.
In the initial suit over Reading’s recycling fee filed in October 2013, the court sided with city resident Mark Iezzi.
But the decision was later voided because Iezzi filed for bankruptcy just before the ruling was issued. Bankruptcy cases impose an automatic stay on court collection efforts and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court voided the ruling.
Since that suit, several things have changed, including language in city ordinances that specifically provide for the collection of recycling fees and changes to the third class city codes that include the word recyclables in their definitions.