Senate bill amendment seeking to block county from bidding trash service fails

By BURKE WASSON

A Senate bill amendment that would have blocked the County Council from bidding trash service for residents in unincorporated areas died last week.

While Rep. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, was able to convince fellow representatives in the Missouri House to include the amendment to Senate Bill 22, he said it was killed by Sen. Harry Kennedy, D-St. Louis. Lembke said that Kennedy declined to include the amendment during House-Senate conference negotiations.

But Kennedy told the Call he was not involved in conference committee for Senate Bill 22 and that he had nothing to do with the amendment’s failure.

“Not on 22, I was not on that conference committee,” Kennedy said. “I don’t know kind of where he (Lembke) got that.”

Kennedy did say that an effort to include another amendment banning trash districts on House Bill 69 was prevented because of an agreement to not put anything “controversial” in that bill.

“House Bill 69, the agreement was any amendment would be non-controversial,” Kennedy said. “In my opinion, this one was controversial.”

The County Council unanimously voted in December to divide unincorporated areas into more than 20 residential trash districts and hire a single waste hauler for each district. County officials have said reasons for this are to en-sure more efficient service and lower the number of trash trucks driving through the county at one time.

But those plans have since been met with opposition specifically in south county, where more than 400 people protested the county’s plans in a March town-hall meeting at Oakville Senior High School mainly because their right to choose a hauler would be taken from them and handed to the County Council.

In response to that criticism, County Executive Charlie Dooley said in April that he would be implementing a task force to study that plan for trash districts and possibly modify it.

Dooley spokesman Mac Scott said Monday that the task force is comprised of roughly 15 county officials in departments including, but not limited to, the departments of health, planning and public works. Scott added that the task force, which is headed by Chief Operating Officer Garry Earls, does not plan to meet publicly until June or July to develop a more firm plan to present for public comment.

“We’re just sort of at the initial part of this,” Scott said. “We’re just trying to come up with some idea of what the plan is and the idea being we know we can’t just go back to the public and say ‘OK, here’s a half-baked kind of plan.’ We want to come back to them with something pretty solid, pretty concrete so they have a chance to look at it and think about it and then talk about it. And if there are issues, we’ll go from there. We assume there are going to be issues, and that’s what we want to get the input to.

“But unless we have a real defined, definitive plan to present, then what’s the point of meeting? Then we end up talking about a thousand different things and this doesn’t really go anywhere.”

Lembke said while he is encouraged that a task force is meeting, he is bothered that it does not include citizens or waste haulers that the plan affects.

“There are an overwhelming amount of my constituents and citizens in the south county area that have been very active in opposing this measure,” Lembke said. “And they should have a voice on that task force. I’d be willing to serve on it, and there’s plenty of private citizens that I know would be willing to serve on it.

“These (waste haulers) are really, really concerned that this is going to put them out of business, especially doing business in unincorporated St. Louis County. This is all about competition and capitalism and the right for individuals to go into contract for themselves and not have government do something for them that they can very well do for themselves and have been doing for themselves.”

Lembke believes his amendment failed due to party politics and that fellow representatives like Rep. Tom Villa, D-St. Louis, criticized the amendment to stay in line with the Democrat-controlled County Council.

“We had a very good shot at it,” Lembke said. “And if Harry Kennedy would have supported us on it, I believe that we would have got it done.

“The other thing that I thought was quite telling was during our substitute motion, Tom Villa from the city of St. Louis got up and railed me one side and down the other and said that Rep. Lembke ought to quit his whining because the majority of the County Council members in St. Louis County are Democrat and they voted to put this in place. So he just thought I should accept it.”

In the meantime, Scott said the task force would continue to work toward finding a way to properly implement the plan and publicly reveal those plans during the summer.

“What we’re doing is meeting on a like every-other-week basis now and beginning to put together our thoughts on what we think could happen,” Scott said. “But we’re still in a relatively infant stage at this point on this project. Our hope is that by June, July, in that time frame, we have a clear picture of what we think would work, probably different from what the council ordinance said. But a little bit more clear about how we think this thing could work and make sense for the people in the county. Bottom line is we want, we’re going to get input from the public. And if this thing doesn’t look like a good deal, then we don’t have anything to present. So that’s what we’re working on right now, trying to figure out how to make this thing work.”

“At the town-hall meeting, there were over 400 people that didn’t want this,” Lembke said. “That’s one of those clear issues where when the people say that they don’t want something, then that’s something we’ve got to fight for.”

The trash-district ordinance adopted last year by the County Council stipulates a “minimum level of service” that includes once-per-week trash collection, once-per-week recyclable pickup and twice-per-year bulk-waste collection.

Residents are not required to recycle or participate in the collection of bulk waste, but still must pay for the monthly fees that are attached to those options as part of the “minimum level of service.” Under that ordinance, any additional services like twice-per-week trash pickup will be available to residents at an extra cost.

The change to trash districts came as a result of a 2000 telephone survey that found most county residents favor trash districts over choosing their own hauler.

Sixth District Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, who voted in favor of the trash-district bill introduced by then-3rd District Councilman Skip Mange, R-Town and Country, since has said he was misled by Mange.

Campisi said that after he initially voted against the bill, Mange then persuaded him to change his vote by telling him during that meeting that the bill would address Campisi’s concerns about designating days for pickup, but not limit trash districts to one waste service.

Campisi has said he would like to designate two days per week in each trash district for waste pickup while still allowing every resident the right to choose their preferred hauler.