One topic was notably absent in Mayor Chris Coleman’s budget speech this month, especially given the fact that it was one of last year’s major subjects: recycling.
His plan for 2015 had been to give residents wheeled carts with lids for their recycling, making it easier and more convenient. You can toss everything together into the 96-gallon cart and then wheel it out to the curb or alley.
But that plan has been pushed back. Anne Hunt, Coleman’s environmental advisor, said that the fees proposed by the city’s recycling contractor, Eureka, to implement the wheeled carts would have been too high to stomach right now.
Eureka, on the other hand, says its proposed fee hike was not nearly as high as Hunt says.
Coleman had announced last year a new effort to boost St. Paul’s recycling rates. It involved enlarging the circle of products acceptable for recycling and making it easier for residents to do.
The city’s program now accepts many plastics it had previously rejected, such as yogurt tubs and microwave trays. It also converted to a single-sort system, making it unnecessary for residents to separate newspapers, cans, bottles and other recyclables into different bins.
Hunt said that for 2015, Eureka proposed a fee hike for single-family homes of 58 percent and that city officials negotiated that increase down to 32.6 percent. That was still too high, she said, for the mayor to recommend to the City Council -- especially given the fact that he was proposing a 2.4 percent increase in the property tax levy.
“We’re committed to offering a high-quality program, but also have to be sure that we’re getting the best value that we can,” Hunt said.
But Tim Brownell, co-president of Eureka, a nonprofit based in Minneapolis, disputed her figures.
He said the first estimate they gave the city was a 40 percent fee increase for weekly service moved from the curbs and into the city's alleys, which would require different trucks. The city was to cover the cost of the wheeled containers, he said.
Both sides knew 40 percent wouldn't work, Brownell said, so Eureka came back with an 18.8 percent fee hike for every other week service. From there, he said, the city and Eureka negotiated a reduced proposal of 12.2 percent.
With Eureka’s contract with the city ending in 2016, St. Paul officials plan to seek competitive bids for the next contract period. Eureka has provided recycling services for the city since 2000.
Whatever the figures, Roger Meyer, a consultant and neighborhood activist who briefly ran for mayor last year as a Green Party candidate, said he was disappointed by Coleman's decision.
“I think it’s a reflection of where his priorities lie, rather than a negotiated deal with Eureka,” he said. “It was such a big deal in last year’s budget address and then this year there’s no acknowledgement, like it didn’t exist.It just feels like a pretty substantial departure from a commitment made."