Some south county residents are so upset about county plans to form trash districts that they are considering breaking away from St. Louis County.
Discussion of the trash districts during an Aug. 9 meeting of the Tesson Ferry Township Republican Club was peppered with comments leaning toward forming a new city or perhaps a new county to escape what some present considered unfair treatment from St. Louis County officials.
Numerous south county residents are opposed to the trash districts because their rates likely would climb and they would lose the freedom to choose their own waste haulers. And because small trash companies could not fairly compete with large haulers bidding on districts throughout unincorporated areas of the county, many would go out of business. Because of these concerns, residents at last week’s meeting discussed the possibility of breaking away from the jurisdiction of St. Louis County by forming their own county.
Oakville Township Republican Committeewoman Celeste Witzel said because of constraints approved in recent years by the state Legislature, it would be easier for residents of unincorporated areas to establish a new county than to incorporate a new city.
“It is easier today to pull away and form a new county than it is to form a new city in St. Louis County,” Witzel said. “You can pull away from the county. We already have Mehlville Fire Protection (District).
“You can contract, you know, how many police officers you would need. You’d need snow removal … But honestly, it’s easier to pull away and start a new county.”
After an effort to incorporate the entire south county area into the city of South Pointe was overwhelmingly defeated by voters, Witzel said the Legislature clamped down on any future moves to incorporate by requiring any collective body trying to incorporate into a city to post a $1 bond for each person in that area.
“When South Pointe came and went, the Democratically controlled Legislature under a Democratic government … they tightened up the ability of communities that are unincorporated to incorporate,” she said. “Because they recognize, the county, St. Louis County, that it would cost them dollars in the form of lost revenue from your taxes. So they went to the Democratically controlled houses and signed this legislation that says you cannot incorporate anymore unless you post a bond for each voter in your district, which in our area would be like 170,000 people. We’d have a dollar a person. And then there were all these other restrictions. There were like 25 new loops that you have to go through. It basically shut it down.”
Barbi Diehl of Oakville said even if an effort to form a new county was unsuccessful, she believes serious support of the measure might be enough to persuade county officials to alter their stance on trash districts.
“While I think breaking away into a separate county would be better, it would not have another layer of government, I think it would also scare the crud out of county government,” Diehl said. “Perhaps they would back down some.”
And with respect to the state Legislature’s $1-per-person bonding measure that would apply for entities wanting to incorporate into a new city, Diehl believes its constitutionality could be challenged.
“On the issue of the legislation that was passed, which basically prohibits anyone from forming their own city, I think if there were money, I think that could also be constitutionally challenged because of the poll-tax idea, a dollar a head, as well as violating our freedom of association,” Diehl said.
If a group of residents were inclined to form a new county within the boundaries of an existing county, state law requires a petition signed by 100 citizens and a vote of the entire county that would be affected.
Chapter 47, Section 310 of the Missouri Revised Statutes states: “The question of dividing any county or of striking from any county any portion thereof, whether for the purpose of forming a new county or of adding to any other county, or of adding thereto any portion of any other county, may, by the order of the county commission of any county to be affected, made on the petition therefore of not less than one hundred voters of such county, duly entered of record, and setting out fully the proposed change, the reason and object thereof, and the boundaries of such county if the change were made, be submitted to a vote of the people of the county, being the voters thereof, at the next general election after the making of such order.”
Section 310 further states: “If the result shows a majority of the voters of the county voting on the question to have voted for the proposed change, the county clerk shall, at the time of certifying such returns to the secretary of state, also certify to that officer two copies of said order of the county commission, and of said publication, and of the affidavit of the publisher, one copy to be retained on file in said secretary’s office, and one copy, with a certified statement of the vote on such question, to be by him transmitted to the senate or house of representatives during the first ten days of the first session of the general assembly after the receipt thereof, and thereupon the General Assembly may take such action in the premises, subject to the provisions of the constitution, as may seem best. No submission of the question authorized under the provisions of this section shall be held upon substantially the same question more often than once in five years.”
Witzel also questioned why the county would wish to hire more employees to handle customer-service issues with trash districting when it could more easily afford to add another County Council representative to the south county area.
“To deal with the customer-service complaints, (the county will) probably have to hire a minimum to start out with 14 county employees to handle customer-service complaints alone, which they’re predicting of a thousand a week, which would ap-proximate 14 people could handle that,” Witzel said. “Now that’s the first year. And as we all know, government doesn’t get smaller as time goes on. What happens? It gets larger. We’ve all seen a program that might have been a temporary program that had good intentions and that it was supposed to sunset. But when it gets down to it, nobody wants it to sunset except for taxpayers. The government doesn’t. It’s not in their interest to have small government …
“My position is instead of that, why doesn’t the county give south county one additional council person to represent us down here in south county? We have 150,000 people. We have one councilperson. They say we’re not represented. Well, instead of hiring 30 employees for the county, give us — for $20,000 — one county person, an extra council person down here. And save your $3 million on your benefits and your employees.”