South county residents ‘trash’ county plans for garbage pickup

Rep. Bivins says county trash measure could result in ‘a monopoly’

By BURKE WASSON

County plans to divide unincorporated areas into more than 20 trash districts with waste haulers chosen for residents by the County Council were met with raucous opposition last week in Oakville.

Amidst catcalls, criticisms and even pleas for secession from St. Louis County, more than 400 people packed Oakville Senior High School for a March 22 “emergency town-hall meeting” called by 6th District Councilman John Campisi, R-south county.

Campisi scheduled the town-hall meeting as a way to gather input from residents on a county ordinance unanimously approved Dec. 12 that calls for the trash-district system.

But the issue of the districts themselves took a back seat last week to the ordinance’s provision that will allow the County Council to employ a single trash hauler in each trash district. The ordinance adopted last year calls for that to occur by Jan. 15.

Douglas Adams of the county Department of Health told residents that the plan to switch to a single trash hauler in each district was made to improve customer service and make it easier for waste haulers to adhere to county codes.

“We’re primarily interested in three objectives here — one being about public safety and welfare in terms of the information and complaints that we have received in the past regarding the number of trucks running through neighborhoods,” Adams said.

“We’re interested in also assuring that there’s quality trash services that will provide uniformly across unincorporated St. Louis County. It’s been our understanding and our research has demonstrated that that level of service varies substantially from neighborhood to neighborhood. And we’re interested in assuring there’s an economy of scale for the operators that makes it easy for them to comply with the new code and the new requirements on the level of service that’s being required of them.”

But Oakville Township Republican Committeewoman Celeste Witzel said she believes her right to choose is being taken away and the County Council acted without proper notification of the public.

“I’m an American living in a free country with freedom of choice in the various aspects of our lives,” Witzel said. “And, if nothing else, these trash districts eliminate all of our freedom of choice to decide how to spend the money that we’re earning on companies where there’s multiple options to choose from.”

The ordinance passed 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 the bill, any additional services like twice-per-week trash pickup will be available to residents at an extra cost.

Though Campisi joined the rest of the council by voting in favor of that bill introduced by then-3rd District Councilman Skip Mange, R-Town and Country, he 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 said at last week’s town-hall meeting that he likely would introduce legislation April 3 at the County Council chambers in Clayton to amend that ordinance. He 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.

The owner of one such hauler, American Eagle, told county officials last week that he, too, is skeptical of the ordinance be-cause the survey on which the plans are based is outdated.

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.

American Eagle owner Brian Barcom said he believes the county should perform another study that is more reflective of current conditions so that officials can know which specific haulers have been a problem for residents.

“You’re not looking out for the best interests of the residents because you haven’t done the research to find out what company the residents are unhappy with,” Bar-com told Adams and other county officials. “For example, if waste haulers are doing a substandard job, you’re either going to make them do their service, fire them and find another service entirely … If there are only four big haulers left and all of us smaller haulers are out of business because we can’t compete with the big guys, you’re not going to have a choice. The choice is going to be gone because they’re all going to be out of business.”

Rep. Walt Bivins, R-Oakville, also detailed his concerns over the county’s plans to choose residents’ trash haulers, which he believes would essentially create poorer service at a higher price.

“The current plan, in my view, takes control away from the homeowners in St. Louis County …,” Bivins said. “To me, eventually, the result will be a consolidation of the trash haulers. Ultimately, I could see a monopoly from all of this. And, of course, you know any time there’s a monopoly, there’s going to eventually be fraud and that type of thing. Perhaps not with the current administration. But eventually, it’s going to happen. I can almost guarantee that that will be the case with a monopoly. The plan, as it’s already been stated, will force you to pay for services you may not need. For example, it has been stated you’ll be forced to pay for recycling — something that you may already do voluntarily and you do it for free …

“Whenever you have competition, to me, the thing that happens is it provides a better service at a lower cost. And this is going to end up eventually providing poorer service at a higher cost. So, in short, competition is the only way to ensure lower cost and better service. And I urge county government to ensure homeowners have a say in ensuring who their trash haulers are.”

Mac Scott, spokesman for County Executive Charlie Dooley, said the County Council could award trash-contract bids this fall providing service to trash districts whose boundaries are yet to be determined. Under the approved waste-management code, the boundaries of the county’s trash districts “shall be determined after consideration of factors including size, compactness, road system and other relevant considerations.”

Because the county has yet to field any bids for these future trash districts, officials have said it is difficult to predict whether customers’ rates will rise or fall.

While county officials have said they will spend the coming months in additional town-hall meetings throughout the county to further explain the trash-district system, residents in attendance at last week’s meeting discussed removing the ordinance by referendum.

Petitioners would have to gather a minimum of 27,077 signatures of registered voters to place the trash issue on the county ballot. That figure is based on the county’s requirement of 5 percent of county voters who cast ballots in the last governor’s election, which was in 2004. Signatures would have to equal 5 percent of those people who voted in St. Louis County in the last governor’s race in each County Council district. That would mean collecting 3,231 signatures in the 1st District; 3,434 signatures in the 2nd District; 4,401 signatures in the 3rd District; 3,653 signatures in the 4th District; 4,236 signatures in the 5th District; 3,887 signatures in the 6th District and 4,235 signatures in the 7th District.

But if a referendum or any amendment legislation introduced by Campisi does not work, resident Marian Witzel proposed another option that filled Oakville Senior High School with thunderous applause.

She said, “As far as I’m concerned, if Clayton wants to do this to us, Oakville should secede from the county and form its own government.”