Group launches petition drive to repeal county trash districts

Citizens need nearly 19,000 signatures by Jan. 29

By BURKE WASSON

A south county citizens group is planning a petition drive to repeal trash districts scheduled to be established in 2008 in unincorporated areas and alter the county’s new minimum levels of service for trash collection.

Tony Niskanen, president of Make Your Opinion Count LLC, said last week that his group hopes to gather all necessary signatures — just shy of 19,000 — to place the initiatives on the county’s April 8 ballot.

“We’re shooting for the April ballot,” Niskanen said. “We are starting two voter initiatives — one of them for repeal of the trash districting and the other one would reduce the level of the minimum service requirement and make it more affordable.”

Niskanen said his group would prefer to alter the county’s new minimum standards of trash-collection service to require pickup of recyclable items every other week instead of the planned weekly pickup of recyclables. The group also hopes to strike a new trash-collection standard of twice-per-year pickup of bulk waste.

The new minimum standards will be in effect Jan. 1 as all trash haulers in the county must offer weekly pickup of trash, weekly pickup of recyclables and twice-per-year pickup of bulk waste.

As for trash districts, the county will divide unincorporated areas into eight trash districts in which the County Council will award a contract 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 districting 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 eight trash districts.

To successfully petition the county to place the group’s proposed ordinance to repeal trash districting and alter the minimum levels of service, the County Charter states that the 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.”

Because the county is divided into seven districts, the group must obtain signatures of registered voters equal to 5 percent of those who voted in the 2004 gubernatorial election in five of the seven County Council districts to put the measure on a ballot.

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

To get the initiatives on the April 8 ballot, Make Your Opinion Count must acquire and deliver all necessary signatures to the county by Jan. 29.

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.

Regarding the implementation of those new minimum standards next week, one waste hauler told the County Council last week said he believes requiring waste haulers to offer recycling next week is too soon — especially because county-supplied recycling carts will not be delivered to all homes until the spring.

“When the county releases all the carts is when the minimum level of service should start,” American Eagle owner Brian Barcom said.

“We’ve heard it could be February, could be March, could be April, could be May. We keep telling everybody no, it’s going to be January, it’s going to be April. Now we don’t know when it’s going to be. And it doesn’t make us look good as business owners that we really don’t know what’s going on. And we don’t know what’s going on. We’re in the same position that everybody else is in. Nobody knows what’s going on as far as when the carts are going to get here,” he added.

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 next September, county spokesman Mac Scott has said no such executive 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 County 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 have the choice to 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.