Group aims to stop county’s new minimum standards for trash pickup

Petition plans to be discussed Jan. 7 at Oakville Senior High

By BURKE WASSON

A south county citizens group trying to repeal trash districts in St. Louis County’s unincorporated areas now aims to also stop the county’s new minimum standards for trash collection.

Tony Niskanen, president of Make Your Opinion Count LLC, said last week that the group now is including language in an initiative petition that would strike the county’s newly enacted minimum standards of once-per-week pickup of trash, once-per-week pickup of recyclables and twice-per-year pickup of bulk waste. The new countywide minimum standards went into effect Jan. 1.

Niskanen said the petition, which must be signed by roughly 19,000 registered voters in St. Louis County by Jan. 29 to appear on the April 8 ballot, now includes language that encourages recycling as a voluntary activity and not a mandatory requirement.

“The language is going to say recycling is strongly encouraged on a voluntary basis, but is not mandatory,” Niskanen said. “To encourage volunteer recycling, the county shall establish a minimum of 18 recycling drop-off centers funded by the county tipping fees (collected from trash haulers) and managed by independent contractors.”

Niskanen said the decision to propose 18 recycling centers is a response to the county’s original trash-district plans, which included the establishment of 18 districts in unincorporated areas.

The group is asking residents to attend a 6:30 p.m. meeting on Monday, Jan. 7, at Oakville Senior High School, 5557 Mil-burn Road, to further discuss plans to carry out the petition drive to stop trash districts.

As planned, the county will divide unincorporated areas into eight trash districts in which the County Council will award a bid to one waste hauler in each district. Because of a perceived monopoly of one business per district as well as a county task force’s own admission this year that trash districts will put some small waste haulers out of business, many unincorporated residents — specifically those in south county — have opposed the move for most of the year. South county is slated to have four of the proposed eight trash districts.

For the group to place its initiatives on the April 8 ballot, the County Charter states that the citizens group must gather the signatures of “qualified voters equal in number to at least 5 percent of the total vote cast for governor in each of two-thirds of the council districts at the last election at which a governor was chosen.”

The group would need to obtain 18,440 signatures, according to the county Board of Election Commissioners.

Niskanen said he has been told by the election board that while his group does not need to obtain signatures in more than one County Council district, it must have the number of signatures equal to 5 percent of people of who voted in five of the seven County Council districts in the 2004 governor’s election.

“We don’t have to have 5 percent in those districts,” he said Friday. “Instead, this is telling us what the total number of signatures is required. I had the election commission confirm that for me when I went down there 10 days ago … You only need to have the total of the five lowest total vote counts (among the seven County Council districts). And there’s no physical requirement.”

All signatures would have to come from registered voters and not simply from district residents.

Niskanen further said that if his group cannot gather the signatures necessary to place the proposal on the April ballot, it would work to meet the county’s May deadline to put the proposal on the county’s August ballot.

“If we don’t have it by (Jan. 29), we’ll go for the August ballot,” he said. “And that is not horrible if that had to happen. It makes it more difficult because there’s other legal things we have to then do to slow everything down with the county. But the momentum should build tremendously.”

As for the county’s plans to establish the trash districts, the county will field bids from February to May from waste haulers interested in providing service to the eight trash districts.

The County Council will begin to award trash-district bids to waste haulers in May and June with each trash district established by September.

For some residents included in the trash districts, monthly trash-collection rates will rise. County Chief Operating Officer Garry Earls has estimated that the average monthly fee for residents being serviced through trash districts will range anywhere from $11 to $18.

The County Council rejected three bills on Dec. 4 that would have amended those trash-district plans. The council’s rejection of Bill 370 eliminated the county’s ability to add two option years onto waste haulers’ three-year contracts to service trash districts, stripped some provisions that would have helped prosecute waste haulers for poaching in trash districts not assigned to them and moved the county’s implementation of new minimum standards to Jan. 1 instead of April.

During that same Dec. 4 meeting, the County Council also rejected a bill that would have delayed the consideration of trash districts until 2010 and a bill that would have limited trash haulers to servicing no more than two trash districts.

While a number of speakers at a Dec. 11 Citizens Against Trashy Government rally criticized County Executive Charlie Dooley for issuing an “executive order” to establish the trash districts by September, county spokesman Mac Scott has said no such order was issued.

Scott said plans to implement trash districts stem from a bill that was approved unanimously in December 2006 by the County Council in which amendments to the county’s solid-waste management code were included. One of those amendments was the establishment of trash districts in unincorporated areas.

Scott further said that the council’s Dec. 4 vote on the three bills rejected proposed amendments to the districts — not the creation of the districts themselves.

While many residents in unincorporated areas are slated to be part of trash districts, subdivisions in those areas can decline that inclusion. Any subdivision that wishes to opt out of trash districts and employ the services of a waste hauler of its choosing has until Feb. 1 to petition the county.

To opt out of a trash district, subdivisions are required to have an active form of governance, follow the provisions of that governance in their petition, gather a simple majority of homeowners opposed to the districts and provide for the new minimum levels of trash service.

A complete report of the county’s trash-district plan is available at the county’s Web site at www.co.st-louis.mo.us.

Anyone interested in contacting Make Your Opinion Count LLC about the petition drive can call (314) 352-6300 or send an e-mail to opinionsllc@sbcglobal.net.