After nine months of negotiations, and three failed proposals from garbage haulers, St. Paul still does not have an organized trash collection plan.
City Council members decided last summer that they did not want multiple companies' trucks rumbling along alleys every week, hired individually by residents from among the 15 haulers operating across the city. The council asked the companies to come up with a partnership plan that would divvy up city territory for more efficient service and offer the same prices for everyone.
But this week, city officials will consider another route forward if the group cannot come up with an offer that meets their goals.
The city and trash companies have not reached a compromise on prices, and haulers remain concerned about the city's desires that they merge into one legal entity and support labor agreements, which would allow workers to unionize. As haulers work on their fourth proposal, city staff members are suggesting St. Paul create an "options committee" to simultaneously look into other ways to get to an organized collection system, such as going out to bid.
Laura Benysek, whose family owns R & M Sanitation, said many small companies, like theirs, would not have the capacity to bid on a citywide contract.
"It's just sad that if the city puts it out to bid all these people who have done this their whole life get lost in the politics of it," she said.
The city would prefer to have the 15-hauler consortium come up with a plan, but staff felt compelled to suggest the "dual track" to keep the process moving, said Ellen Biales, with the city's Public Works Department.
St. Paul officials want to roll out the new trash collection system next year, though Biales said it could be 2019 if they have to go out to bid.
City Council members will consider a resolution Wednesday authorizing continued negotiations with haulers and establishing a committee, made up of Council Members Russ Stark and Dan Bostrom, the deputy mayor and the public works director, to "identify, examine, and evaluate" organized collection methods.
Meanwhile, a coalition of haulers and residents, called First Choice St. Paul, has created a website and is writing to city officials urging them not to implement organized collection.
Despite a push from some residents who want to continue to choose their own haulers, Benysek said it seems many city officials made up their minds long ago that the city should shift to an organized system.
Benysek still thinks the 15 haulers and the city will reach an agreement, but said the city needs to make compromises. St. Paul wants garbage collectors to lower their prices while offering more services, such as picking up bulky items like mattresses and tires, she said.
"I don't know how much more the haulers can give, and I think the city needs to be a little more realistic," she said.
City staff have been negotiating but have to meet policy directions set by the City Council, Environmental Policy Director Anne Hunt said.
As for the haulers' concern about multiple companies operating as one entity, she said other cities, like Bloomington and Minneapolis, have made that transition.
"We're not asking them to do something that is totally precedent-setting," Hunt said.