Bill increasing duration of contracts for trash districts receives initial OK

Stenger says his job involves doing what’s right for citizens.

By EVAN YOUNG

By a 4-3 vote, the County Council last week tentatively approved legislation that would extend the length of the county’s trash-district contracts.

Council Chairman Steve Stenger, D-south county, crossed party lines to vote against the measure along with council members Greg Quinn, R-Ballwin, and Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country.

The proposal would extend the term of the contracts for eight trash districts in unincorporated areas to five years from three years.

The current contracts expire Sept. 30 and are expected to be rebid this summer.

County officials believe the move would result in lower bids, citing interviews conducted with local waste haulers. Cheaper bids could lead to a five-year savings of $24 to $45 per unincorporated household, or $1.9 million to $3.6 million in five-year savings across all 80,366 households the trash districts serve, officials contend.

A longer agreement also would allow haulers to amortize capital expenses, officials have said. But the three council members who voted against the proposal said they are opposed to expanding a program that’s unpopular in their council districts.

“(T)here has been an outcry among a substantial portion of the people that are affected by this indicating that they don’t want this,” Quinn told the Call. “I think it has been essentially forced upon them, and they don’t want it.

“And in my mind, we have — as government officials — we have a duty to listen to what the people have to say, and I think any extension that we make on this would go against the wishes of a substantial portion of the St. Louis County population.”

In south county, where four of the eight trash districts are situated, Stenger said a majority of residents wanted to vote on the program when it was implemented three years ago.

“The more that the contract periods are lengthened, the more it begins to … move away from the situation that many people argued for in the beginning of this, and I think rightfully so. They argued for a vote of the people,” Stenger told the Call. “Well, the longer you extend the contracts, and the fewer times that you allow bidding on these contracts, the further it moves away from the people.”

Stenger has said previously that the proposal would move the trash-district program “closer to a monopoly,” because one waste hauler would be able to serve a district exclusively for a longer period of time.

As for the claim the proposal would save residents money on their trash bills, Stenger said, “I think much to the contrary. I think if you bid them out more, you increase competition and you get better prices.”

The county received “a pretty competitive rate” when it bid out the trash-district contracts three years ago, Wasinger said.

“So why don’t we just bid it for another three years? To me it makes more sense,” she told the Call, adding that haulers would provide a higher level of service under a shorter agreement.

Wasinger also cited the lawsuits that have been filed against the county relating to its trash program. In one suit, a county circuit court judge in January ruled the county owes three waste haulers damages for not providing them two years’ notification it was establishing trash districts, which is required by Missouri law. A trial on how much in damages is owed tentatively is set for May 31.

“There have been some hiccups along the way with the trash program …,” Wasinger said. “I’m just in favor of a little bit more conservative approach in how we proceed with it, and I think five years is just too long at this point.”

Typically, the council chairman sponsors legislation that applies to all council districts. But Stenger said he refused to do so for the trash-district contract bill — the measure instead is sponsored by Councilman Mike O’Mara, D-Florissant.

Asked about his split from fellow council Democrats on last week’s vote, Stenger said, “If it’s not the best deal for the people of St. Louis County, I’m not voting for it. I’m not worried about being the only person that votes no. I’m not even worried about being the only person in my party that votes no … My job is not to get re-elected. It’s to do what’s right for the people in my district. So in other words, it’s not always the popular thing; it’s the right thing, and that’s what I’m going to do.”