County Council advances trash-district enforcement bill

Final action could be taken Nov. 18

By BURKE WASSON

St. Louis County officials last week took steps to punish waste haulers for serving unincorporated trash districts already assigned to other trash collectors approved by the County Council.

The County Council voted 4-3 Nov. 6 to favor an amendment that would fine haulers $50 per household for making unauthorized collections in trash districts not awarded to them. The council’s four Democrats voted “yes” and three Republicans voted “no.”

The proposed amendment was introduced as a substitute bill by 5th District Councilwoman Barbara Fraser, D-University City.

The council did not give final approval to the measure, but could do so as soon as Nov. 18, when it next meets at 6 p.m.

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

After County Counselor Patricia Redington acknowledged in court that the county’s recently established trash districts in unincorporated areas are unenforceable, some haulers had informed the County Council that they plan on offering service within trash districts not awarded to them.

To combat this possibility, Dooley had proposed penalizing unsuccessful bidders servicing trash districts with a fine of up to $1,000 and a year in jail.

While the possibilities of the $1,000 fine and one-year jail sentence are still included in Fraser’s substitute bill, the penalty for serving an unassigned trash district is $50 per violation.

County spokesman Mac Scott said that Fraser’s bill also eliminates the original bill’s status as emergency legislation, which would have to be approved by a supermajority of five of the council’s seven members.

“Essentially, when the bill was originally received, it had an emergency provision on it so that it could be enacted in a quicker amount of time,” Scott said. “So what they did (Nov. 6) was they took that bill with the anticipation of reintroducing a bill that didn’t have the emergency provision on it.”

Fraser’s bill also would codify a 10-percent discount to household owners 65 and older, require haulers to operate a customer-service center from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, allow homeowners to temporarily opt out of trash districts if their home will be vacant for 60 days or more and force 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.

County officials also are waiting on a remedy to be determined at the Circuit Court level after the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals issued an Oct. 21 ruling that would require county officials to adhere to a state-mandated two-year notice to waste haulers before establishing trash districts.

In the ruling, the court states that despite county officials’ claims that the County Charter supersedes Missouri Revised Statute 260.247 mandating the two-year notice, county officials’ claims of home rule do not apply in this case.

American Eagle Waste Services, Meridian Waste Service and Waste Management of Missouri originally sued the county in May for not providing the two-year notice.

Scott has said county officials believe that the state law requiring the two-year notice must be considered and not necessarily followed.

But Waste Management spokeswoman Lisa Disbrow believes the appellate court reinforced her company’s opinion that the county must issue a two-year notice.

At the same time, Scott said county officials are questioning the validity of the state law requiring a two-year notice as it was enacted after the County Council voted to establish trash districts. While the County Council voted 7-0 in December 2006 to establish future trash districts, the state law requiring the two-year notice was not enacted until 2007.

While county officials are questioning that state law, some unincorporated residents have considered canceling the services of the haulers assigned to their district to employ unassigned haulers.

Attorney Lester Stuckmeyer served as host of an Oct. 21 anti-trash-district rally at Bayless Senior High School, where he said there is no county law preventing unincorporated residents from choosing any hauler they wish. Stuckmeyer is representing American Eagle and two residents in another suit against the county to try to bring trash districts to a vote in each district.

Stuckmeyer added that he does not believe residents would be fined or penalized for employing haulers not awarded trash districts.

To defend against the possibility of litigation from haulers assigned to trash districts, Stuckmeyer encouraged people to inform their assigned haulers that they do not want their service.

In response to Stuckmeyer’s efforts, Scott said while the county currently has no “clear answer” on how to address unincorporated residents choosing other haulers, county officials would support haulers awarded trash districts by the county.

County officials have said this was done in response to unincorporated residents complaining that their neighborhoods were being serviced by multiple trash companies.