BREAKING NEWS (as of 12:11 p.m. on Tuesday, April 8)

State Attorney General’s Office says St. Louis County must provide two-year notice before implementing trash districts

By BURKE WASSON

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion Monday concluding that because of a state statute passed last year by the state Legislature that requires a two-year notice to waste haulers before establishing trash districts, St. Louis County must follow suit before it implements eight trash districts planned to be established this year in unincorporated areas.

With the backing of Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, three state representatives from south county asked Attorney General Jay Nixon in February to determine the legality of the trash districts’ implementation.

Because of a state statute that went into effect Jan. 1 that requires a political subdivision to issue a two-year notice to waste haulers before establishing trash districts, the elected officials contend that the county’s trash-district program is unconstitutional.

Rep. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, Rep. Walt Bivins, R-Oakville, Rep. Jim Avery, R-Crestwood and Gibbons say that Section 260.247(2) of the Missouri Revised Statutes prevents St. Louis County from establishing trash districts in 2008.

The statute, approved in 2007, states:

“A city or political subdivision shall not commence solid-waste collection in such area for at least two years from the effective date of the annexation or at least two years from the effective date of the notice that the city or political subdivision intends to enter into the business of solid waste collection or to expand existing solid waste collection services into the area, unless the city or political subdivision contracts with the private entity or entities to continue such services for that period.

“If for any reason the city or political subdivision does not exercise its option to provide for or contract for the provision of services within an affected area within three years from the effective date of the notice, then the city or political subdivision shall renotify …”

On Monday, a conclusion issued by Paul C. Wilson, the Attorney General’s Office’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Litigation, said that the law applies to St. Louis County.

The opinion begins:

“Dear Senator Gibbons:

On February 25, 2008, you, together with Representatives Lembke, Bivins and Avery, requested an opinion regarding ‘whether (Section) 360.247 (2) RSMo (2008) already mandates a two-year waiting period where St. Louis County is intending to commence a franchised monopoly displacement of existing haulers later in 2008.’

“Based upon the facts submitted in your request, and those we have gathered independently, it appears that the General Assembly’s 2007 amendment to the two-year notice provision of (Section) 260.247, which extended that requirement to all ‘political subdivisions,’ does apply to the activities now being pursued by the County.”

The opinion concludes:

“On the basis of the facts presented to us, as set forth above, we conclude that, with the adoption of Ordinances 607.1300 and 607.1310, St. Louis County has decided to ‘enter into’ solid waste collection services for purposes of Section 260.247. Therefore, the two-year notice requirement imposed by Section 260.247 — as amended by the General Assembly in 2007 — extends to the activities now being contemplated by St. Louis County under Ordinance 607.1310.”

The county already has already taken bids for one of eight trash districts planned to be implemented in July as a “pilot district” in the 2nd County Council District represented by Council Chair Kathleen Burkett, D-Overland, who has been a vocal proponent of trash districts.

As for the seven remaining trash districts, county officials could begin bidding for those as early as May.

County officials plan to establish eight trash districts in unincorporated areas in which the County Council would award one bid to a trash hauler per district and contend that having one hauler per district would result in a more uniform brand of service and lower prices

But some waste haulers and residents, mostly in south county, have criticized the move because county officials have also stated that districts would likely push some small haulers out of business due to a lack of competition in unincorporated areas.

The Missouri House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Environment was scheduled today — April 8 — to conduct a hearing on a bill introduced by Lembke that would repeal trash districts. The committee is chaired by Bivins.

Additionally, 6th District County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, requested last week that the County Counselor’s office prepare a bill that would not only repeal trash districts, but also allow county residents to be exempt from recycling charges if those residents meet any of the following conditions:

• They generate less than 35 gallons of recyclable material during a seven-day period.

• They take recyclables to “a school, church, or other charitable organization” or take recyclables “to a licensed waste processing facility.”

Campisi’s request for a bill also would remove the county’s new minimum standard that waste haulers provide two bulk-waste pickups per year and instead be allowed to offer that service “at a reasonable fee.”

Campisi has also opposed trash districts and planned to testify today to the committee.