Gibbons, 3 state representatives question trash districts’ legality

Legislators seeking opinion from state Attorney General Nixon

By BURKE WASSON

With the backing of Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, three state representatives from south county have asked Attorney General Jay Nixon to determine the legality of trash districts that St. Louis County officials want to establish in unincorporated areas.

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.

Reps. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, Walt Bivins, R-Oakville, 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 …”

Lembke said because the trash-district plans would confine each district to one hauler hired by the County Council, he and his fellow legislators agree that the written-notice statute applies to the county.

“In the body of a local-government bill was a provision that if any political subdivision wanted to get into the trash business, they would have to give the local haulers a two-year written notice that they were doing so before they could implement their program,” Lembke said. “So what we’re doing is we’re asking for the Attorney General’s opinion on whether that law applies. And I guess the reason we’re asking if it applies is because there is little question … since they’re contracted with a private hauler to actually handle the districts … that this law applies.

“We believe it does because they are setting up these monopoly districts. And they do have a say on where they are, who’s going to be the hauler there and that type of thing. So even though they’re not going out and buying the trucks and actually hiring the people and then providing the service, they are dictating who you’re going to have to use.”

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.

Reasons given by county officials for forming the trash districts, which were unanimously approved in December 2006 by the County Council, include reducing truck traffic in residential areas and setting up a uniform system of standards and pricing to encourage more recycling.

Trash haulers already are adhering to the county’s new minimum standards of trash service that went into effect this year.

Those standards that now must be offered by all waste haulers in the county include once-per-week pickup of trash and recyclables and twice-per-year pickup of bulk waste.

But numerous south county residents have opposed the establishment of trash districts because of the perceived monopoly they would create by allowing only one waste hauler per district and because of concerns that the new minimum standards would increase the cost of trash collection.

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

Besides his efforts to seek a legal opinion from Nixon, Lembke has introduced a bill in the House that seeks to ban the establishment of trash districts in St. Louis County.

Lembke said he also plans to attach that bill as an amendment in other bills this spring.

“I have not had a hearing as of yet,” Lembke said. “I’m pushing the speaker to get a hearing in local government. And also I will put that bill like I did last year in the form of an amendment.

“With a local-government bill that comes through, my plan is to put it onto that bill. It’s a timing thing, which concerns me a little bit, but my understanding is the county is talking about later implementation, which is good news.”

County officials did not respond to re-quests for comment before press time.