To some county officials, choosing a trash hauler for residents in unincorporated areas is a good idea. But to 6th District Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, it’s an “emergency.”
In response to the county’s plans to field bids from waste haulers for exclusive service in trash districts that are yet to be determined, Campisi said last week he is planning “an emergency town-hall meeting.”
“I want to hear what everybody has to say about the one trash hauler in the district,” Campisi said. “And I know what I’m going to get. I’m going to get an ‘Absolutely no way in hell that’s going to happen.'”
Campisi said he would schedule the March 22 town-hall meeting at a location to be determined in south county and also invite County Executive Charlie Dooley to attend.
In addition, Dooley spokesman Mac Scott said last week that the county executive will schedule town-hall meetings this year to explain the trash-district system to residents.
Plans for dividing unincorporated areas of the county into more than 20 trash districts by Jan. 15 stem from a bill unanimously approved Dec. 12 by the County Council.
The measure also requires all trash haulers in the county to offer a “minimum level of service” that includes once-per-week trash collection, once-per-week recyclable pickup and twice-per-year bulk-waste collection. Residents are not required to recycle nor participate in the collection of bulk waste, but still must pay for the monthly fees that are attached to those options as part of the “minimum level of service.”
Under the bill, any additional services like twice-per-week trash pickup will be available to residents at an extra cost.
Though Campisi joined the rest of the council by voting in favor of that bill introduced by then-3rd District Councilman Skip Mange, R-Town and Country, he said last week that he was misled by Mange.
Campisi said that after he initially voted against the bill, Mange then persuaded him to change his vote by telling him during that meeting that the bill would address Campisi’s concerns about designating days for pickup, but not limit trash districts to one waste service.
“I voted against it at first until Skip came over and said to me, quote, this is for the trash districts exactly as you were talking about,” Campisi said. “Which meant to me that it was the trash district that was going to allow certain particular days for trash hauling to be picked up, not for one hauler.”
Under the waste-management code ap-proved by the council in December, the boundaries of the county’s trash districts “shall be determined after consideration of factors including size, compactness, road system and other relevant considerations.”
To rectify his concerns, Campisi said he is considering the introduction of a bill that would designate two days per week for trash pickup while still allowing residents the right to choose their preferred hauler.
But county studies have indicated that a majority of residents prefer the implementation of trash districts and less are concerned with the freedom to choose their own hauler, according to Scott. The change to trash districts came as a result of a 2000 phone survey that found most county residents are in favor of trash districts as well as comments made last spring to Dooley in various town-hall meetings.
John Haasis, manager of the county’s Solid Waste Management Program, said that at each of those town-hall meetings in which Dooley engaged last year, residents requested trash districts. Dooley had April 2006 town-hall meetings in Oakville, Fenton, Creve Coeur, Hazelwood and Sperreng Middle School in south county.
But Campisi contends the issues of trash districts and residents’ right to choose trash service are separate issues. He also believes that based upon his conversations with south county residents, the majority would be opposed to allowing the County Council to choose a trash hauler for them.
Scott said the County Council could award trash-contract bids this fall providing service to trash districts, the boundaries of which have yet to be determined.
Because the county has yet to field any bids for these future trash districts, officials have said it is difficult to predict whether customers’ rates will rise or fall.
At the same time, Haasis and Scott both believe that trash rates would drop for many residents because haulers could save fuel expenses by being contracted to perform in specific districts.
“When you designate an area, that area is all contiguous,” Haasis said. “So all the homes are going to be closer together, which should result in probably a better price because a hauler doesn’t have to travel as far. One of his biggest costs is transportation and fuel. So if they’re all compact in the same area, he could have a truck driving less miles to pick up the same number of homes. The way it is now in unincorporated, he may drive two, three or four times as far to collect the same volume of material. If you’re in a subdivision of 300 homes, let’s say a hauler only has 20 of those homes, but he’s got to drive maybe down every street in the subdivision to get to those 20 homes. Whereas, it would be more efficient if he picked up every home on those streets. It just seems logical that this would be a better price. And it’s the competitive bidding, the bargaining part of that whole thing that should help the price and help the bid be the best it could be.”
Campisi is skeptical that the size and scope of the trash districts would be feasible for all waste haulers in the county.
“Somebody is going to go out of business,” he said. “And not just somebody, but quite a few because either they can’t handle the district that they’ve been given or it’s not enough to keep their company alive.”
But Scott said through the implementation of single-hauler trash districts, county officials merely are seeking the most cost-effective method for both residents and trash companies.
“Logic would tell us that you get some economies of scale if you do it that way and that probably that’s going to be the most efficient, cost-effective way to provide this service,” Scott said. “That’s where I think we’ve rubbed some of these smaller haulers the wrong way. Although, I don’t think the districts are going to be so mammoth that some of these smaller companies can’t figure out a way to make a bid and to get that work.”
If trash-pickup companies are not meeting residents’ standards after trash districts are established, Scott said county officials would take the appropriate action.
“If a waste hauler’s doing a crummy job, we’re going to back and either fire them and find somebody else or make them improve their service,” Scott said. “We’re trying to put all that stuff as a part of the deal so there is a way to take care of people.”
But Campisi reiterated last week that he is opposed to choosing waste haulers for residents in unincorporated areas and that he was misled by Mange when he changed his “no” vote to a “yes” vote supporting the changes to the waste-management code.
“What I wanted to do was keep competition in the area,” Campisi said. “That wasn’t what I voted for. It wasn’t for one trash hauler for a district.”
While Haasis realizes that people would no longer have the opportunity next year to choose their own trash hauler, he is confident that bidding to the County Council would ensure fair prices.