Total of 311 subdivisions submit petitions to county to opt out of trash-district plan

Bipartisan coalition growing in opposition to trash districts

By BURKE WASSON

As the County Council was set earlier this week to consider a bill that would repeal trash districts in unincorporated St. Louis County, 28,065 households in such areas already have chosen to do so.

A total of 311 subdivisions — or 26.92 percent of total households in unincorporated areas — petitioned the county to opt out of trash districts, according to county officials.

Only subdivisions carrying an active form of governance and employing the services of a trash hauler that meets the county’s newly enacted minimum waste-collection standards were permitted to opt out of the districts.

While the county still is processing those applications, the County Council was set to vote Tuesday night — after the Call went to press — on an amendment introduced Feb. 5 by 6th District County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, that would eliminate trash districts.

The county already had planned to establish one of eight trash districts in July as a “pilot district” in the 2nd County Council District represented by Chair Kathleen Burkett, D-Overland, who has been a vocal proponent of trash districts.

The county will solicit bids for that district in March and have not committed to a date to begin the bidding process for the seven other trash districts, four of which would be located in south county. County officials intend 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.

Of those unincorporated areas, the following number in each proposed trash district have petitioned the county to opt out:

• 29 subdivisions — 4,289 households — in the 1st Trash District in north county. That equals 25.79 percent of the 16,632 households in that district.

• Five subdivisions —1,400 households — in the 2nd Trash District in northeast county. That equals 2.10 percent of the 11,568 households in that district.

• Nine subdivisions — 1,429 households — in the 3rd Trash District in central county. That equals 14.02 percent of the 10,196 households in that district.

• 46 subdivisions — 4,729 households — in the 4th Trash District in southwest county. That equals 33.85 percent of the 13,970 households in that district.

• 34 subdivisions — 3,183 households — in the 5th Trash District in south county. That equals 20.76 percent of the 15,330 households in that district.

• 23 subdivisions — 2,058 households — in the 6th Trash District in south county. That equals 18.04 percent of the 11,406 households in that district.

• 105 subdivisions — 5,962 households — in the 7th Trash District in south county. That equals 41.54 percent of the 14,352 households in that district.

• 60 subdivisions — 5,015 households — in the 8th Trash District in south county. That equals 46.5 percent of the 10,786 households in that district.

While those subdivisions already have chosen to opt out, unincorporated households not included in subdivisions are not being given the chance to do so.

To that extent, attorney Matt O’Grady is representing homeowners not part of subdivisions in south county to try to allow them to opt out and not be treated like what he terms as “second-class citizens.”

“My interest in this matter is as an attorney representing various homeowners who reside in areas that are not in a residential subdivision,” O’Grady said. “What that means is this. There’s been some talk about equal protection of the law and so forth.

“That’s just a fancy way of saying that the people who are living in areas that are not in residential subdivisions and areas that lack the organizational structure of a neighborhood or subdivision don’t get all the same privileges and benefits as those people who do. They can’t opt out of this program.”

A bipartisan coalition of elected leaders and candidates opposed to trash districts planned to be implemented this year in unincorporated St. Louis County has grown in recent weeks.

On Jan. 25, Rep. Walt Bivins, R-Oak-ville, Rep. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, Mehlville Board of Education President Tom Diehl and Campisi assembled during a press conference to push fellow elected officials and candidates to oppose the county’s trash districts.

Last week, they were joined in opposition to the trash districts by the following elected officials: Senate Majority Leader Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood; Democratic Senate 1st District candidate and former state Rep. Joan Barry; District 15 Senate candidates Kevin Gunn and Eric Schmidt; Rep. Michael Vogt, D-Affton; District 85 House candidates Vicki Englund, a Democrat, and Cloria Brown, a Republican; Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst, R-Manchester; Rep. Sue Schoemehl, D-Oakville; Rep. Jim Avery, R-Crestwood; and Rep. Pat Yaeger, D-Lemay.

In addition, the Call has received statements opposing trash districts in recent weeks from Democratic 97th District State House candidate and former Mehlville Board of Education member Jan Polizzi, Green Park Board of Aldermen President Anthony Pousosa and Mehlville Board of Education Vice President Karl Frank Jr., who is running in April for re-election.

Lembke, who is opposing Barry in the race for the Senate 1st District seat being vacated by state Sen. Harry Kennedy, has introduced a bill in the Missouri House that would stop trash districts from being formed as planned by September in unincorporated St. Louis County.

Attorney Lester Stuckmeyer, who represents the group Citizens Against Trashy Government and also assisted subdivisions in opting out, vowed last week that the group’s efforts are “far from over.”

“I think it’s high time that the leaders in St. Louis County and the administration pay attention to those people and pay attention to the elected officials as well that are saying: ‘We don’t want this,'” Stuckmeyer said. “It’s time to pull this plug. I’d also like to reassure you that there are more things to come.

“We are not finished with this fight and we continue to press legal and political options in order to stop this program and stop this monopolistic mess that has been created here.”