Dooley announces task force will study trash-district system

New county trash plan would affect all cities, unincorporated areas of county

By BURKE WASSON

Any compromise between St. Louis County and residents opposed to the county’s plans to form more than 20 trash districts in 2008 will not be reached until at least a few more months.

County Executive Charlie Dooley last week announced that a task force will be designed to further study the county’s trash-district system, which was unanimously approved in December by the County Council. The task force will be headed by Chief Operating Officer Garry Earls and is expected to take 90 days from its formation to make its recommendations.

Dooley spokesman Mac Scott said while no members other than Earls have been appointed to the task force, he anticipates more will be named within two weeks.

Many residents, including more than 400 on March 22 at Oakville Senior High School, have voiced opposition to the trash districts mainly because people’s right to choose their own trash haulers would be taken from them and handed to the County Council.

Dooley said last week that it his goal to provide better service for all county residents, including those who live in municipalities, and added that the trash-district system now would affect those cities as well as unincorporated areas.

“This plan is for the entire county,” Dooley said. “No one’s left out. If it’s municipality or unincorporated, they’re all going to be impacted with this. It does not impact any contract service right now until the contract expires. Hopefully, we’ll have something in place by January 2008 to move forward and we won’t move forward all at one time. If we do move forward, it will be a phased-in process. But we do believe we have to do something because we have a limited landfill in St. Louis County. Something has to be done for the future.”

The ordinance adopted last year by the County Council stipulates 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 or 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 that ordinance, any additional services like twice-per-week trash pickup will be available to residents at an extra cost.

The change to trash districts came as a result of a 2000 telephone survey that found most county residents favor trash districts over choosing their own hauler.

alls for the County Council to award contracts to specific trash haulers in each trash district, county officials have said it is difficult to tell whether residents’ trash bills would rise or fall.

But Dooley added that if the task force determines that the trash-district plan will raise residents’ rates, he would be willing to modify it.

“We want no one to pay more than they’re already paying,” Dooley said. “That’s a fact. We don’t want that to take place. But we want to offer service to as many folks and put St. Louis County in the forefront of the environment and move our community forward. That’s our intent. Our intent is not to put any particular business or small business out of business. That’s not our intent.

“Our intent is customer driven. It’s how can we effectively service the people in St. Louis County and move our community forward? That’s our intent. If that intent is not met, we won’t do anything. But I’m confident that we can come up with something that makes sense.”

Sixth District Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, said he hopes Dooley is serious about his desire to now implement the plan for not only unincorporated areas, but also cities. His reasoning is that if unincorporated areas that already award contracts to trash haulers through subdivisions would lose their right to pick their own hauler, then cities should as well.

“How is the unincorporated area different from the municipalities?” Campisi said. “We’re not. We’re not any different. We are our own entity, and St. Louis County just happens to represent us rather than a smaller board of one of the municipalities. I think that the unincorporated area of the county ought to be treated the same way as the municipalities. And so this task force needs to go in and look at that very subject. I think the south county area has been the most vocal about the whole thing only because we’re so used to picking our own trash hauler. I can say most of the subdivisions in the south county area have already done exactly what the municipalities have done.

“These subdivisions that we have here in south county are very smart. They get their homes together and they form a small consortium and they go out for contract. And they’ll bid one against another and, of course, whoever comes up with the lowest bid wins.”

At the same time, Campisi believes that any trash plan that would be put forward by the county would not be as efficient as the bidding process used in subdivisions. For those reasons, he doubts that residents’ rates would fall under a county-controlled trash service.

“You know, to say that the county’s going to be able to do that better than our subdivisions, I don’t think it can do any better than our subdivisions do right now,” Campisi said. “I just don’t. I don’t think anybody in the county can step up to the podium and look everybody in the face and say that they can do better than 11 bucks a month. It’s not going to happen.”

While Campisi joined the rest of the council in December by voting in favor of the trash-district bill introduced by then-3rd District Councilman Skip Mange, R-Town and Country, he since has said he was misled by Mange. Campisi said that after he initially voted against the bill, Mange 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.

Campisi still maintains that he would like to designate two days per week in each trash district for waste pickup while still allowing every resident the right to choose their preferred hauler.

Scott said the task force is simply a way for county officials to take the concerns of residents like those in south county and try to change the trash plan to fit their desires.

“They (south county residents) were pretty vehement in their opposition to it, so where do we go from here?” Scott said. “Obviously, we want to do the right thing for the people of St. Louis County. So we’re going to look at this issue from all sides with all options open.”

He said that could include another survey of residents similar to the county-sponsored phone survey conducted in 2000.

Some people like Oakville resident Ken Dale addressed the County Council last week in opposition to the trash plan.

“I can’t see creating a new bureaucracy, a new financial realm of government for us that we’re going to have to pay for,” Dale said. “And then in the long run, you all will be making a fine decision whether we like it or not. And we will have to live with it.”

An owner of one trash-hauling company — Brian Barcom of American Eagle Waste Industries — told the County Council that he knows of no other small trash company that supports the county’s plan and fears that it would run such smaller haulers out of business.

“We all get together as haulers and talk about things that go on,” Barcom said. “Not one hauler admitted to proposing this issue as a good thing. So if none of us want it, why does it continue to happen to go through if nobody wants it to happen? If you put a task force together and nobody knows anything about trash or knows the ins and outs of what it takes to do it, that would be like somebody like me wanting to be the executive of the county and run the county when I really don’t know.”

For the time being, Campisi is “anxious” to see how the task force studies the proposal and is hoping that municipalities hear of the now-countywide plans that Dooley has suggested.

“He’s going to bring in the municipalities, and I’m anxious to see what the task force is going to come back with on that,” Campisi said. “Are the municipalities going to allow St. Louis County to come in and supersede what they already have? Or are we going to just stick with the unincorporated area of St. Louis County? How is that going to work out? Because I’m sure Town and Country really likes the service they have, and Skip Mange is the one who came up with the idea. So, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. And I’m glad the task force is going to look into that whole idea of bringing everybody together.”