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On November 5, Saint Paul residents will be asked to vote YES or NO on Ordinance 18-39 which establishes the rules and regulations regarding trash pickup and billing for residents in dwellings with 4 or less units.
Sustain Saint Paul supports a YES vote on this referendum and encourages its members and all Saint Paul residents to vote YES.
There are many reasons to support organized trash collection (OTC):
- Equity. The new system standardizes prices which creates a more equitable rate system for everyone. No matter where you live in the city, if you are on an alley, or what your neighbors pay or do with their trash you will pay the same rate for the same service for the same cart size. Under the old system, residents in poorer neighborhoods often paid more or simply could not get haulers to come to their homes.
- Environment. Organized trash collection reduces the number of trucks on the road which reduces emissions and gas consumption overall (it’s estimated that open systems use 375% the amount of gas of organized systems)
- Reduce road maintenance cost. Fewer trucks means less wear and tear on St. Paul’s alleys and roads which in turn reduces maintenance costs. (In other words, fewer potholes, and more money for the potholes that remain!)
- Public health and safety. Organized trash helps the city prevent and clean up illegal dumping.
The current system creates a baseline for Saint Paul’s waste management solution.
There are fair criticisms of the current system –
- that billing and customer service issues exist that overcharge and frustrate residents
- Some residents are paying more because they previously shared carts with neighbors, including buildings With less than 5 units where previously carts were shared. Others may have chosen to “opt-out” of the system as low or zero-wasters.
Customer Service and Billing Issues
There have been issues with pickups, customer service, overages and complications with billing as this new service as been rolling out. This system has been in place for just over a year and almost every new program will have start-up issues.
Section 2.20.5 of the contract establishes a “Consortium Customer Service Point of Contact” for the duration of the contract to address customer service issues. The city can exercise this part of the contract to engage the haulers to try to improve upon customer service. And it has. By most accounts, calls and complaints are down. This contract establishes a common expectation for customer service as well as specific routes to remedying them. Moving forward it can be expected that these issues will continue to be reduced.
Under the previous system – carts were sometimes shared between neighbors or units in buildings. Some people did so because they are low wasters. Some did this for cost savings. Sometimes it is just not necessary to have one cart per unit.
That said – it was still technically not permitted to opt-out of trash collection. Every residential dwelling unit (RDU) in dwellings with 4 or less units has been required to have trash service for years. This ordinance has not changed that.
Sharing – especially in multi-unit dwellings – needs to be worked out in the present contract. As a city we should be encouraging residents to produce less waste. That goes without saying given the goals of this entire effort. Indeed – one of the objectives is to use organized trash in conjunction with Ramsey County’s organics program due to launch in 2021 in order to provide curbside composting. That will further reduce landfill waste.
This contract should and can be a starting point for a discussion about sharing and waste reduction. The hauler consortium pushed back on sharing during negotiations and as a result, a contract could not be reached at the launch time that included it as an option.
But no contract is without the capability for renegotiation. As long as all parties can come to the table and are willing to negotiate, there is no reason not to expect that an arrangement can be made between the remaining haulers and the city and this contract can be revised.
The Facts of Where We Are Now and What this Vote Will Mean
One thing can be said with certainty – there won’t be any movement on either of the above criticisms while there is uncertainty about the ordinance referendum.
Claims from any party that a No vote on this referendum will mean that this current contract is void and that we will “start over” are false at best and really are simply misleading. In the October 5 article St. Paul’s trash contract has an ‘acts of God’ clause. Would a ballot defeat count?, experts weighed in and expressed the same opinion – we don’t know what will happen in the event of a NO vote. Certainly, if the City does decide that it can exercise the force majeure in the contract, as Carol Chomsky says “There’s no clear, easy way out for the city in that ‘force majeure’ clause”.
Furthermore, in its October 16, 2019 full ruling, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that “Here, whatever the result of the referendum, the City’s contract obligations are not impaired. The City is contractually obligated to allow St. Paul Haulers the exclusive right to provide waste collection services. The outcome of a referendum on an ordinance that establishes waste collection will not terminate the contract and does not rise to the level of a constitutional impairment of a contractual obligation. ” (page 22 “A19-0916“)
The referendum does not impair the contract. What that means is that whether there is a Yes or No vote on November 5 – the contract between the City and the Hauler Consortium will not be terminated. The City will be obligated to pay the haulers.
Mayor Carter has made it clear that in the event of a No vote succeeding, the City will shift the costs of this contract from the 73,000 households currently receiving service through it to ALL property owners by means of a 17.4% additional increase in the tax levy. Because the referendum is only on the ordinance that allows the haulers to bill for the services, the City would need to quickly transition to a way of collecting for services. Shifting to a property tax increase will ensure that no trash services lapse and the City cannot be held in breach of the contract.
While this may be necessary to avoid chaos and a breach of contract, shifting the burden of this contract onto all property owners is NOT a good solution. Businesses and multi-unit apartments and condos – who are exempt from the ordinance – will have their property taxes increase AND they will still be required to contract their own trash services. A large percentage of the affordable housing units in Saint Paul are located in larger buildings. Small businesses already struggle. Increasing taxes on these properties will increase rents on residents already in housing vulnerable situations. Businesses will need to increase their prices in order to cover the rise in taxes. All without getting any services provided.
The way to move forward is to Vote Yes.
With a YES vote, a system grounded in the cooperative effort of the City and its residents will continue. Residents will receive uninterrupted service and continue to pay for it (we’ve already seen rates be reduced) instead of burdening the rest of the city with that cost.
Instead of trying to breach and litigate the contract with the haulers only to eventually have to renegotiate everything – we can work on improving the existing pain points.We can work on the imperfections and we can continue to strive towards reducing waste and encouraging recycling and organics composting. It may take time, but there is at least a path towards progress. But, we’re only going to do that together and if we keep moving forward. And that is why Sustain Saint Paul supports a YES vote.
If you would like to help support a Yes vote, you can obtain a yard or window sign, make favorable comments, and get more information by going to https://yesforsaintpaul.org.
Zero Waste St Paul – who has been our partner in collecting information about this vote, the ordinance, and advocating for it through education has a great page of information on the topic and a downloadable handout. For more information go to Zero Waste St Paul’s website.