County begins enforcement of trash districts

Stenger concerned whether some can pay their trash bills

By BURKE WASSON

Residents in unincorporated St. Louis County could be fined as well as taken to court if they refuse to enter into an agreement with their county-appointed trash hauler.

County officials have begun issuing $100 fines to homeowners for “failure to have in effect an agreement for the collection of waste.”

Such residents have two choices — pay the fine or have the fine waived by reinstating service with the county’s appointed trash hauler.

If neither of those options are taken, county officials said the violation would be reported to County Counselor Patricia Redington, who then would “institute legal proceedings against you without further notice.”

The penalty for the first violation in a 12-month period is $100, according to Section 607.140 of the county’s waste-management code. The penalty for a second violation in a 12-month period is $200.

Some residents have not paid bills to their district-appointed haulers and have had trash service suspended, which also results in the county issuing a fine.

Sixth District Councilman Steve Stenger, D-south county, said he is concerned about whether some citizens — particularly the elderly and low-income residents — can afford to pay their trash bills.

“First of all, I do not support that fine system that they have for people who don’t pay,” he said. “I don’t support it in general and particularly I don’t support it for the elderly in our community and for people who are basically below the poverty line who can’t afford to pay their trash bill …

“Further, I think we need to look at it with maybe a little critical analysis and say: OK. When the hauler doesn’t pick up your trash or doesn’t meet its obligations under the program, it gets a $10 fine per household. Now when you don’t (pay), you get a $100 fine. So where’s the equity in that? … They get to rack up 10 or 20 violations to your one. I don’t think that’s fair,” Stenger said.

To that end, he said he is contemplating some type of legislation to make the fine system more fair.

All of unincorporated St. Louis County since last fall has been part of a trash-district system in which each district is served by one county-appointed hauler. County officials established eight such districts as a way to standardize service and reduce costs through competitive bidding.

Three haulers — Allied Waste, IESI and Veolia — were awarded bids to serve the eight districts with each hauler promised exclusive service in awarded districts.

County Executive Charlie Dooley in October had sought “emergency legislation” to close a loophole in county law that would allow waste haulers to serve any trash district.

After Redington acknowledged in court that trash districts were unenforceable, some haulers who were not awarded contracts informed the County Council that they planned on offering service within the established trash districts.

To combat this possibility, Dooley originally had proposed penalizing unsuccessful bidders servicing established trash districts with a fine of up to $1,000 and a year in jail. The County Council later voted to reduce that fine to $50 per trip.

Some residents have not paid bills to their district-appointed haulers and have had trash service suspended, which results in the county issuing a fine.

Besides putting teeth in the trash-district program to dissuade unauthorized haulers from serving trash districts awarded by the county to contracted haulers, the County Council last year also set some parameters for residents and haulers.

An ordinance allows homeowners to temporarily opt out of trash districts if their home will be vacant for 60 days or more, requires haulers to develop a plan to collect trash “to residences which demonstrate the lack of any member age 13 or older physically able” to place trash at designated pickups, codifies a 10-percent discount to household owners 65 and older and stipulates that haulers must operate a customer-service center from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

If residents are not satisfied with their trash service, they are encouraged to call the county at 314-615-HAUL (4285).

A county employee then will verify if the caller’s address is not on a list of households that did not have trash set out on collection day.

At that point, the county will dispatch an employee to see that trash is on the curb and then advise the hauler that they have 24 hours to pick it up. If not, haulers will be fined $10 per missed pickup.