South county residents want trash-district plan discarded

Campisi urges citizens to oppose county’s trash plan

By BURKE WASSON

County officials studying plans to form trash districts in unincorporated areas recently referred to south county residents as “highly energized and oppositional.”

Sixth District County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, last week challenged those citizens to show that same energetic opposition at County Council meetings.

Campisi pleaded to roughly 150 residents attending an Aug. 9 Tesson Ferry Township Republican Club meeting to make their voices heard in opposition to the county’s trash-district plans.

Residents present last week opposed the districts predominantly because they lose the right to choose their own hauling service, their rates likely are to increase and also because some small haulers will be forced out of business.

Campisi said while he appreciates the concern from his district, he implored those residents to make their presence felt during the County Council’s weekly 6 p.m. Tuesday meetings in Clayton.

“You still need to show up at those meetings,” Campisi said. “You can’t stop fighting. If you stop fighting, you’ve given up. If you’re going to give up, why shouldn’t I? I don’t want you to give up. I need you to be there at those meetings. I need you to voice your opinion. I need you to write those letters and get the groups and show up at those meetings. Show up at my town-hall meetings. You’ve got to voice your opinion. If you don’t say anything, they’re going to go forward with it.”

A task force of 19 county officials concluded July 31 that “there is merit” to forming more than 20 trash districts in unincorporated areas during 2008 and 2009.

The County Council unanimously voted in December to divide unincorporated areas into more than 20 trash districts and hire a single waste hauler for each district.

Campisi, who now is opposed to those plans, said former 3rd District Councilman Skip Mange misled him when he voted in favor of the proposal.

County officials have said reasons for the districts include ensuring a uniform price range, setting a standard service range, the need for more recycling and a desire to improve appearance and reduce wear and tear on county roads by lowering the number of trash trucks driving through the county at one time.

The trash-district plan will remove residents’ right to choose their own trash hauler and transfer that responsibility to the County Council.

Subdivisions in unincorporated areas will have the opportunity to opt out of the service contracted in their specific districts, but only if they already are under contract with a waste hauler. Campisi believes subdivisions will have up to three years after a trash district’s implementation to keep their contracted haulers.

Task-force members recommend the formation of a Trash Service Commission “to provide citizen input and advice” on the implementation and operation of trash-district contracts. The task force further concluded that by December, county officials should establish a district boundary map and a request for proposals and standard contract for trash-collection services.

Further recommendations include advertising for two trash-district contracts by February, awarding contracts for those two districts by May, advertising four more district contracts by August 2008, awarding contracts to those four districts by October 2008, advertising for all remaining districts by November 2008 and awarding contracts to all districts by January 2009.

The task force also concluded that an “unintended consequence” of the county’s plans is that small haulers will be put out of business because they cannot compete with larger waste companies in bidding.

One owner of a small local hauling company said last week he is confident that the move to trash districts will do much to put his company out of business.

“This is, without a doubt, the best way to make it almost virtually impossible for me and my brother to stay in business,” American Eagle owner Brian Barcom said. “And if it doesn’t, then it actually puts us behind the eight ball. Because if we don’t get any districts, we have 15 trucks that we’re not going to be able to pay for. So I think small independents have been doing well for a number of amount of years. And it is virtually the best way to make us go away.”

He added that although he was able to obtain a trash-hauling license through the county with a $2 million insurance plan, a new stipulation in the county’s pending trash-district system that calls for a $10 million insurance minimum is unaffordable.

Oakville Township Republican Committeewoman Celeste Witzel criticized several of the county’s reasons for the districts, including officials’ praise of larger haulers’ customer-service systems.

“The small haulers don’t stand a chance,” Witzel said. “They will be put out of business. The areas are going to be too big for them. I don’t believe they’re going to get a fair shake. The county site visited Waste Management Inc. And in the (task force) report, it’s glowing about how their customer services are so wonderful and that the big companies offer the best customer service. It did have a sentence in there about there is a lot of people that do leave Waste Management because they say the customer service isn’t that great and they go to smaller haulers. But the smaller haulers, we believe the county’s saying this — we don’t believe they can handle the volume and the customer complaints …

“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. We’ve existed 60 years with our own trash service. They say they’ve been examining this for 15 years, analyzing it and researching it. I don’t believe it. I believe it’s a ploy, personally, to get rid of the small haulers because the large haulers, for political reasons, are more expeditious to what their intent and what their goal is.”

Witzel also questioned whether the county would actually see reduced wear and tear on roads because haulers will be required to offer a minimum of once-per-week trash pickup and recycling and twice-per-year bulk-waste pickup.

Mehlville Board of Education President Tom Diehl, who also attended last week’s meeting, said south county residents need to be more involved with the trash-district issue — unlike when the bill forming those districts was approved last year.

“When this trash bill was passed, it was business as usual in the county,” he said. “They scheduled a hearing at three in the afternoon and they knew that working people couldn’t be there. I was able to speak. But there was no one else outside of trash-industry representatives who were there to voice their opinion. And so naturally, they passed a bill that favors big trash industries.

“I think our best shot is to just get as many people as interested and involved as possible. If you have connections in other parts of St. Louis County where you can get those folks to start calling, we’re going to need it because south county doesn’t have much clout anymore. I mean, they know we’ve only got one council vote.

“They know that the Democrats have the majority on the County Council. We have to find somebody on the Democratic side that is going to vote ‘no’ on this bill. So this is something when you’ve got to lay the partisan aspect aside and just start working to make sure everybody understands the ramifications of this. We are going to be subsidizing trash service for people in north county. And I don’t know about you, but I know darn good and well my trash bill will be going up under this plan.”