The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday authorized County Counsel to sue the city of San Bernardino for $1.5 million in unpaid landfill service fees.

But first, attorneys for the county will file a motion in U.S. Bankruptcy Court requesting it exempt the unpaid fees from Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, which the city filed for on Aug. 1, county spokesman David Wert said.

Wert said the city owes the county roughly $1.5 million in tipping fees from trash collected by the city and dumped at the county's Mid-Valley landfill in Rialto.

But even if the bankruptcy court exempts the uncollected fees from bankruptcy protection, the county could still sue the city if it wants.

"Making the exemption does not compel the city to pay the county, and the county wants to collect those funds because it has an obligation to the taxpayers to do so," Wert said.

City Attorney James F. Penman called the county's action "a fist below the belt."

"The county knows we're in bankruptcy and can't afford to pay the fees. If the city had the fees we'd pay them," Penman said. "This is really kicking us in the teeth when we're down."

He said he was having a hard time understanding why the county would take such an action and not keep the city in the loop, as it had promised the city.

"The county said it would notify the city if it planned to take any adverse actions, but they didn't," Penman said.


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He said paying the county the $1.5 million would cut into city payroll, and a legal fight to collect the money could force the city into insolvency.

"If we had that kind of money lying around we wouldn't be in bankruptcy," said Penman. "This is a time we need a helping hand from the county, not a fist below the belt."

Wert said the county will also ask the bankruptcy court if the county would be obligated to accept trash collected by the city's integrated waste management division come Jan. 1, when the city's contract with the county expires.

Penman said the city will continue demonstrating to the bankruptcy court that it is insolvent and that exempting any of its debt to creditors from bankruptcy protection could force the city to dissolve.

"Of all the creditors we would expect to do something like this, the county would be at the bottom of our list," Penman said.


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