Officials call for repeal of trash districts, county counselor’s resignation

State legislators ‘guarantee’ lawsuit against St. Louis County if voters can’t decide districts

By BURKE WASSON

Sixth District County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, and three state legislators contend that under the County Charter, trash districts can’t be created in unincorporated areas without the approval of voters in each district.

The elected officials also are calling for the resignation of County Counselor Patricia Redington, who they allege has ignored the County Charter and defied state law in advising the County Council to form trash districts.

Campisi — along with Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood; Rep. Walt Bivins, R-Oakville; and Rep. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay — last week urged the county administration to repeal the establishment of eight trash districts and put them to a vote of the people in each district.

They cite Section 2.180.24 of the County Charter, which states that “the council shall have, by ordinance, the power to: Provide for the creation of districts in the unincorporated areas of the county within which may be provided … garbage and refuse collection and disposal, and such kindred facilities as the voters therein by a majority of those voting thereon may approve, the same to be paid for from funds raised by special assessment, general taxation or service charge …”

In a statement, Campisi said: “I have previously presented legislation to require a vote of the people on this program. The administration blocked it as unnecessary. Their position is that the program was on valid legal footing. Now it turns out this dumb, costly monopoly program was unlawful as launched from day one … I would like to see County Executive (Charlie) Dooley and (Chief Operating Officer) Garry Earls — his enforcer — come to south county and try to win voter approval.”

But county officials maintain that trash districts are legal and that Section 2.180.24 of the County Charter applies only to taxing districts.

While Redington did not return calls seeking comment before press time, she did write a May 30 response to Campisi that states trash districts were created “under charter authority” outside of Section 2.180.24.

“Districts created under this subsection must be approved by a majority of the voters, after which they may generate funding by special assessment, general taxation or service charge,” she wrote. “I could only speculate why the County Council — of which you are a member — chose in 2006 to create trash districts under Charter authority other than Section 2.180.24. At any rate, I hope you are pleased to have been part of the council whose enactment of the new Solid-Waste Code promises to provide cheaper and ‘greener’ services to our unincorporated residents …”

If the County Council does not repeal trash districts, Lembke last week made a “guarantee” that he and his fellow legislators will file suit against St. Louis County.

“If they do not do what’s right on behalf of their constituents and the people of the county, then we will bring suit and we will take them to court and sue,” Lembke said. “There’s already a lawsuit going on from the small haulers. So we’ll probably sit down and see how we can go forward together in this. But I guarantee you that there will be a lawsuit brought because the county is clearly in violation of their own charter.”

Three trash-collection companies filed suit May 29 against St. Louis County contending state law requires the county to issue a two-year notice to waste haulers before establishing trash districts and awarding contracts for trash pickup. Filing suit were American Eagle Waste Indus-tries, Meridian Waste Services and Waste Management of Missouri.

Redington has said that the notification requirement does not apply to St. Louis County because it is a charter county.

The county has established eight trash districts in unincorporated areas with one trash hauler per district. County officials contend that having one hauler per district will result in a more uniform brand of service and lower prices. The county already has enforced new minimum standards of once-per-week pickup of trash and recyclables and twice-per-year pickup of bulk waste. But some waste haulers and residents, mostly in south county, have criticized the move because county officials also have stated that districts likely would force some small haulers out of business due to a lack of competition.

In split votes last week, County Council members awarded contracts for three districts.

IESI will serve the first district north of Interstate 270 near Florissant with monthly charges of $12.09 in the first year and $13.14 in the third year. Allied Waste will serve the fifth district in Affton with monthly charges of $12.29 in the first year and $13.29 in the third year. Veolia will serve the seventh district in Concord with monthly charges of $12.40 in the first year and $13.28 in the third year.

Apparent low bidders in other districts are: IESI in the second district in northeast county with monthly charges of $12.03 in the first year and $13.07 in the third year; Veolia in the fourth district in four separate portions of southwest county along the Meramec River with monthly charges of $12.25 in the first year and $13.25 in the third year; Aspen in the sixth district in Lemay with monthly charges of $11.31 in the first year and $12.11 in the third year; and Aspen in the eighth district in Oakville with monthly charges of $11.31 in the first year and $12.11 in the third year.

While these prices are less than many monthly charges already being assessed, Campisi believes that awarding contracts to only one trash hauler per district will create a monopoly and eventually lead to prices beyond control.

Bivins added that the county’s ‘Go Green’ campaign to promote recycling has clouded the issue of trash districts as he believes county officials conveniently have linked them together.

“I have no particular problem with the county requiring trash haulers to offer recycling,” Bivins said. “But in the interest of maintaining a free-enterprise system, you should be able to pick the company and contract you prefer so that competition is maintained.”

As for Redington, Campisi said she should resign for not bringing Section 2.180.24 — which would put districts to a vote — to the council’s attention in 2006 when it approved their formation.

“She should have known this County Charter,” he said. “She’s definitely leading the council members down the wrong path and giving misinformation to the county executive and the officers upstairs. I think that Pat Redington should resign her position. This should have been brought to our attention way before the signing of legislation back in December 2006 and it wasn’t.

“That was Pat Redington’s job to do so. She had plenty of time to go over the County Charter and did not do so. And that is why I’m asking for Pat Redington to step down so someone can step into her place that actually knows what they’re doing.”