Trash districts unenforceable; refusing hauler may lead to sanctions

Rally tentatively slated Oct. 21 for haulers who didn’t win bids

By BURKE WASSON

While County Counselor Patricia Redington revealed last week that St. Louis County has no ordinance to enforce newly established trash districts in unincorporated areas, residents who refuse to use the county-appointed waste hauler in those districts could face other consequences.

An e-mail sent Oct. 1 from county administrative employee Janice Biggs to county employees advised that residents refusing to pay bills to haulers assigned to trash districts could be named to a “delinquent list.” Biggs’ e-mail to county customer-service employees coaching their responses to calls about the matter, in part, states:

“… Our program has not changed. These types of matters are being handled by our legal department. We have been instructed to proceed, ensuring that your trash and recyclables are picked up by the authorized and contracted haulers in your district.

“If they say they will refuse to pay the bill: We’re proceeding with the districting program in your area, therefore, you’ll still be receiving a bill by the authorized district hauler. You’ll then probably show up on a delinquent list and we’ll take the appropriate actions at the time to assure that the trash service and district programs are sustained.”

Additionally, county spokesman Mac Scott said while unincorporated residents who refuse to pay bills to their assigned hauler currently can’t be prosecuted, “that may change” as county officials are considering presenting a new ordinance to the County Council.

In the meantime, Scott said unincorporated residents who would rather contract with a hauler different from the company assigned to their respective trash district could be considered by county officials on a “case-by-case basis.”

“My understanding is that if somebody wants to contract with another hauler that we will review that the new hauler is providing the minimum level of service …,” Scott said. “And we’ll take it on a case-by-case basis and do it … There’s nothing that precludes that from happening.”

Effective last week, the county has established eight trash districts in unincorporated areas with one trash hauler per district.

County officials have said this was done in response to unincorporated residents’ concerns that neighborhoods were being serviced by multiple trash companies.

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

County officials contend that having one hauler per district will result in a more uniform brand of service and lower prices. The county also has established new minimum standards for trash service. These standards are weekly pickup of trash and recyclables and twice-per-year pickup of bulk waste.

But some waste haulers and residents, mostly in south county, have criticized the move because county officials also have stated that districts likely would force some small haulers out of business due to a lack of competition.

American Eagle Waste Industries owner Bryan Barcom has estimated that his company will lose “60 to 65 percent” of more than 22,000 households under contract in St. Louis County. He believes this will result in a $3 million annual loss for his company.

Barcom last week told the County Council that if it has no measures to prosecute residents or haulers for ignoring trash districts’ provisions, he would continue to offer service to any household and ignore the exclusivity promised by the county to haulers awarded bids to service the trash districts.

Additionally, 6th District County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, has invited every hauler not awarded a trash- district contract in St. Louis County to attend a rally later this month to restore service to homes in those areas.

“I want all the individual smaller haulers to come to the rally and set up a table with sign-up sheets and contracts for subdivisions and individuals to sign back up with their company,” Campisi said.

The rally tentatively is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 21, at Bayless Senior High School, 4532 Weber Road.

Campisi is confident that unincorporated residents won’t face prosecution from the county if they choose another hauler over their trash district’s county-appointed hauler.

“St. Louis County has absolutely no teeth in coming back after them,” he said. “They have no recourse whatsoever … I think Pat Redington and (County Executive) Charlie Dooley should come to south county and apologize for scaring everyone into thinking that they were going to be prosecuted.”

Barcom revealed at last week’s County Council meeting that Redington admitted earlier that day during a Missouri Court of Appeals hearing that the county could not prosecute individuals ignoring the trash districts’ provisions.

American Eagle, Meridian Waste Service and Waste Management of Missouri were in court Sept. 30 appealing the dismissal of a suit they filed in May against the county. In the suit, they allege the county failed to provide a two-year notice to haulers before establishing trash districts as required by state law.

Besides that lawsuit, American Eagle in August joined with two unincorporated residents to file another suit against the county that seeks voter approval of trash districts. That lawsuit contends trash districts were improperly established because they were not approved by the voters of each district, which they believe is required by the County Charter.

Attorney Lester Stuckmeyer, who is representing American Eagle and the residents in that suit, said while Redington’s recent admission doesn’t excuse the county’s alleged charter violation for not putting the districts to a vote, he believes it does provide a loophole for unincorporated residents to choose their own hauler.

“I think what they’ve stated now makes the exception larger than the rule,” he said. “In theory, it would seem that this whole program is now defunct. However, in practicality, the ordinance (establishing the districts) is still there. It still violates the charter. And until it’s invalidated officially or withdrawn officially by the county, we still have to continue to press forward.”

Scott views last week’s full implementation of all trash districts as an “advantage” to unincorporated residents based on their cheaper trash bills due to competitive bidding.

“We’ve been getting a very good response,” Scott said. “Sure, there have been some problems and a street was missed or a house was missed or something like that.

“Or people didn’t realize that their (pickup) day was Wednesday or Tuesday or whatever and didn’t get their can out. But these are all things that get worked out in the first couple of weeks. And the haulers have been real good about helping us work through those problems. But the response has been very positive and very good.”