Officials urge bipartisan effort to oppose county’s trash plan

Lembke introduces bill in Missouri House to stop trash districts

By BURKE WASSON

A handful of local elected officials are fighting on a variety of fronts to prevent the establishment of trash districts in unincorporated St. Louis County.

A coalition of elected leadership pleaded last week for bipartisan opposition of the trash districts from all local elected officials and political candidates.

Sixth District County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, Rep. Walt Bivins, R-Oakville, Rep. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay and Mehlville Board of Education President Tom Diehl assembled last week during a press conference to push fellow elected officials and candidates to oppose the county’s trash districts.

The group plans to meet again at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Andre’s Banquet Facilities, 4254 Telegraph Road, and is urging a bipartisan collection of local elected officials and candidates to attend that meeting as a show of solidarity.

Lembke also introduced a bill last week in the Missouri House that would stop trash districts from being formed as planned by September in unincorporated St. Louis County.

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

But for almost a year, 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.

Campisi, whose County Council district would contain four of the eight proposed trash districts, said the plan is being administratively forced by county officials rather than the County Council as the council collectively has voted “no” on four separate amendments specifying dates and methods of their establishment.

“The four amendments, I think, tell the truth,” Campisi said. “No matter what kind of an amendment you’re trying to put forth, the consensus on the dais is there just isn’t enough votes to push anything through … The only piece of legislation that I see is a piece of legislation (in December 2006) that says St. Louis County needs to form districts and it needs to come up with RFPs (requests for proposals) in order to get the minimum standard of trash and recyclables offered by the trash haulers.

“That’s all I see that’s in place right now. For (county officials) to say this needs to be going forward, I don’t see anything that says this needs to go forward. There’s nothing in place that defines the areas in which the trash haulers have to bid on yet.”

Campisi also reiterated that when he voted in favor of establishing trash districts in December 2006, he was misled by former 3rd District Councilman Skip Mange, who allegedly told Campisi that the districts would not be confined to one hauler.

With these events in mind, Campisi said he hopes that more elected officials and candidates would join in a united, bipartisan effort to oppose trash districts.

At last week’s conference, Diehl read a statement from Democratic candidate Vicki Englund, who is running for state representative in Missouri’s 85th District, that she is also opposed to trash districts.

Additionally, the Call last week received a statement from Mehlville Board of Education Vice President Karl Frank Jr., who is running for re-election in April, proclaiming his opposition to trash districts.

“I believe this trash-districting proposal is a flawed idea,” Frank stated. “When the economy is entering into a recession, our government should not be implementing programs that will eliminate small businesses, put men and women who are trying to feed their families out of work and raise costs to seniors on fixed incomes.

“While we must all do more recycling, we can do that without creating monopoly trash-hauling contracts that favor one or two large out-of-town waste haulers over local businessmen and women,” Frank added.

While Lembke is joining in the effort to unite elected officials against trash districting, he said he is also following through on “the will of people” by introducing a bill in the House last week to stop the districts from being formed in St. Louis County.

“My concern is that (county officials) haven’t been responsive to the people,” he said. “Very seldom do we get an opportunity in this business as elected representatives to hear clearly from our constituents on issues. And generally as a state representative, if I hear from a dozen constituents, I’d better stand up and take notice. But here, we’re having meetings where 500 and 600 people show up. It’s crystal clear the people don’t want this. The county should pull the plug on the program. Go back to the drawing board. Some of their goals are laudable. But the way they want to implement it is not what the people want. And when it’s this clear, I think you have to go back to the drawing board.”

Co-sponsors of Lembke’s legislation include Bivins, Rep. Jim Avery, R-Crestwood, and Rep. Charles Portwood, R-Ballwin. Lembke’s legislation states:

“No county with a charter form of government and with more than 1 million inhabitants shall enact any charter provision governing the establishment of areas within the unincorporated areas of such county for the collection and transfer of waste and recovered materials or authorizing bids or proposals for the provision of such services. Any such charter provision shall be void.”

Diehl is optimistic that a bipartisan effort will come forward to oppose the trash districts, which he referred to as “fatally flawed.”

“On those issues that really matter — our health, our safety, our children, our environment — party affiliation does not matter,” he said. “Time and again, we’ve shown that people working together can do great things and greater things and that together we are part of a greater whole.

“The people in south county are united in their opposition to this trash-districting proposal. And in our community alone, there are already more than 30 subdivisions that have chosen to opt out. Mr. Earls’ plan is fatally flawed,” Diehl said, referring to County Chief Operating Officer Garry Earls. “It creates winners and losers. It will put many hard-working, taxpaying citizens out of work at a time when our economy is very weak. It will place an undue burden on people on fixed incomes.”