Dumping the dumper wasn't easy in Shakopee.
Amid all the turbulence of his first 18 months as mayor, Brad Tabke reports, no one ever literally called him up and yelled at him — until Trash Wars came along.
"It's been," he sighed, "a very interesting process."
Last week, the suburb's 12-year marriage with Dick's Sanitation ended quietly. The conclusion came after a Dick's lobbying campaign that included robocalls placed to people's homes seeking their support.
A five-year contract for trash and recycling will instead go to Allied Waste Services, starting next year.
If Tabke downplays the yelling — "it's hardly anyone doing that, just a tiny percentage who just want to get things riled up" — he does say that public reaction was "probably evenly split between keeping them and getting rid of them."
The suburb stands out among Minnesota cities in having just a single, city-chosen hauler, a setup that officials over the years have proudly credited for sparing their costly streets from the crushing weight of multiple trucks.
As cities always seem to find when they try to tamper with garbage arrangements, it's a delicate issue. The garbageman or woman, for better or worse, is a relationship in one's life, a person who comes to your home often and can either annoy or please.
David Domack, public relations manager for Dick's, addressed that issue as he faced the council last week.
"When we started 12 years ago, you based this process on one issue and that was service," he said, not price. "I look back at all the things we changed, the service issues we came to fix, and [city staff have agreed] we did fix those things and we take pride in doing that.
"We feel strongly, if it's 63 cents a home a month [a household will save from now on], I strongly feel it's worth what we're all about."
It was an oblique warning that the city may well slide back into misery for having opted for cheapness rather than quality.
But Tabke isn't having it.
"We're talking four hundred grand over five years," he said in an interview. "That's 100 percent local money, directly going into the Shakopee economy," rather than paid to a Lakeville-based firm. "I understand this hurts, but when we save that throughout our community, I'm OK with doing that."
As for service, he said, the city did its due diligence and sees no reason to worry.
It became plain, though, that the new world the city is entering will involve some adjustments, and perhaps a set of unhappy residents.
A tiered system, different for townhouses than for other residential customers, is being heaved out with the trash, and in its place comes a more uniform pricing — meaning a hike for townhouse residents.
"Prior to the 2001 contract," City Administrator Mark McNeill explained in a memo to his council, "many townhome associations were served by individual haulers, and many of those used dumpsters instead of individual carts. That led to incidents of illegal dumping and low rates of recycling.
"In order to get townhome customers under the then-new city contract, differentiated rates were negotiated. Over the years, this continued practice has effectively caused single-family customers to subsidize the rates paid by townhome customers.
"Allied proposes to change the pricing structure, so that it is truly a 'pay as you throw,' volume-based cost: A 60-gallon garbage service would cost the same for everyone covered under the contract, regardless of whether the resident lives in a single-family home or townhome."
Because of this, rates will decrease for single-family customers and increase for 60- and 90-gallon townhouse customers. For example, 60-gallon single-family monthly rates will fall by $2.73. The same volume for a townhouse customer will increase by $2.84.
The council has seen a lot of split votes, but not on this one.
Council members were concerned, though, about the price hike to townhouses. One response is that the new arrangement likely will encourage residents to recycle more and trash less, thus allowing households to downsize their carts.
Council Member Jay Whiting asked about the ease of that, to which McNeill reported there will be a period of months at the outset in which people can gauge their use and be able to switch carts out without paying penalties.
Among the other key details:
• The new contract goes to single-sort recycling, commingling all recyclables, which are sorted later at a central facility.
• Recycling will be picked up every other week, saving punishment from trucks on city streets.
• There's an every-other-week refuse option, allowing low-volume households to save money.
• The city will own the carts rather than the hauler, who then bakes their cost into the pricing. That costs up to $1.6 million and will be covered through fees until paid off; then there's a period of years of free use before they need to be replaced.
• Yard waste is part of the deal and will be handled similarly to now. Bulky waste will have a separate price schedule.
• Organics such as food and non-recyclable paper might also become part of the arrangement as early as 2015.