South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Voter approval not needed for county’s trash districts, judge rules

St. Louis County did not have to seek voter approval of its trash district program, a circuit judge ruled last week.

County Circuit Judge Barbara Wallace on Sept. 2 denied a motion for summary judgment by plaintiffs in a lawsuit over whether the county’s eight trash districts in unincorporated areas were improperly established because they were not approved by the voters of each district.

South county resident Brett Buchanan, north county resident Greg Porter and trash hauler American Eagle Waste Industries filed the suit in August 2008.

The plaintiffs alleged the county “directly violated the command of its own governing charter by imposing upon its citizens in unincorporated areas a mandatory trash-district program and service charge without an authorizing vote by the citizens in each district, as required by the charter.”

They cited a section of the County Charter that states the County Council “shall have, by ordinance, the power to … provide for the creation of districts in the unincorporated areas of the county within which may be provided … garbage and refuse collection and disposal, and such kindred facilities as the voters therein by a majority of those voting thereon may approve, the same to be paid for from funds raised by special assessment, general taxation or service charge …”

But Wallace ruled last week that the ordinance establishing the trash district program “legally effectuates the County Council’s authority to provide, license and regulate trash collection services” as outlined in other sections of the County Charter.

Those sections state the council has the power to “(c)ollect and dispose of … garbage and refuse, or license and regulate such collection and disposal, and impose a charge for such service;” “(f)urnish or provide within the part of the county outside incorporated cities any service or function of any municipality or political subdivision, except school districts” and “exercise legislative power pertaining to public health … in the part of the county outside incorporated cities …”

“Further, a vote is not required by any of those sections,” Wallace stated.

County Counselor Patricia Redington told the Call Friday the county was pleased with the judge’s decision but declined to comment further because she had not seen the ruling.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Lester Stuckmeyer also declined to comment until he could review the judge’s ruling.

The council awarded contracts to Allied Waste Services, IESI Missouri and Veolia Environmental Services in 2008 to serve its trash program, one hauler per trash district.

Residents in those areas must establish service with their authorized trash hauler or face fines and, in some cases, prosecution.

Three other lawsuits are pending against the county’s trash districts and waste management code.

One suit claims the county failed to provide a two-year notice required by state law to waste haulers before establishing its trash districts.

The suit was filed in 2008 by American Eagle Waste, Meridian Waste Services and Waste Management of Missouri.

Wallace, who also is presiding over this case, last month denied the county’s motion to dismiss the case on two of the three counts in the plaintiffs’ petition.

A motion for partial summary judgment by the plaintiffs was pending at the Call’s press time.

A class-action suit filed a year ago by three unincorporated county residents is pending in the Missouri Court of Appeals.

Representing thousands of county property owners, the plaintiffs want Allied, IESI and Veolia to repay all the fees they’ve collected since they began servicing the eight trash districts.

The plaintiffs also want the county ordinances establishing the districts, and prohibiting unauthorized haulers from providing trash removal within them, declared “illegal and void.”

In another suit, four unincorporated residents allege the recycling charges they pay their waste haulers are “taxes” and are not permitted under the Missouri Constitution’s Hancock Amendment.

That amendment requires voter approval before political subdivisions can levy any tax. The suit, filed in June 2009, also is pending in appellate court.

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