You can add organized trash collection to potholes and unplowed streets on the list of things that get St. Paul residents steamed at city officials — so much so that more folks are holding pop-up events to get support for a petition putting the plan to a vote.
Some residents question whether St. Paul’s decision to use a consortium of haulers this fall to create a centralized system, including uniform trash carts and set fees, will hurt more than it helps.
“The city’s plan is pretty bad,” said Alisa Lein, one of the petition organizers who said the city plan could triple some residents’ trash bills.
Organizers hope to gather 6,000 signatures by mid-September, which is 1,000 more than needed to put the question on the ballot, Lein said. As of Monday afternoon, the group had gathered more than 1,300 signatures.
City Council President Amy Brendmoen, at a leadership conference in New York Tuesday, said she understands residents’ frustration.
“All I can add is that [council members] are frustrated, too,” she wrote in an e-mail. “We have asked admin[istration] to keep looking for options on some of these less-than-ideal details.”
Starting Oct. 1, St. Paul residents can no longer choose their own trash hauler. The City Council reached agreement with a consortium of 15 haulers to standardize rates, pickup days and neighborhoods assignments.
Residents have four choices of trash carts, which are owned by the city: a 35-gallon cart collected every other week or a 35-gallon, 64-gallon or 96-gallon cart collected weekly. Monthly charges will range from $20.28 to $34.15.
The five-year contract came after 13 months of intensive negotiations, said Ellen Biales, an administrative programs manager for the Department of Public Works. It streamlines the former system, where residents often paid widely varying rates for different haulers. That means that some residents will pay more for city trash collection and others will pay less, Biales said.
“What we had was a really, really wide disparity in cost,” she said.
Officials also say they expect the plan will reduce wear and tear on alleys and roads by reducing garbage truck traffic to a single day per week.
A big change
But the new system has prompted plenty of angst more than a month before it rolls out. The city began delivering the new carts this week, and problems have already popped up.
Some residents are reporting that their properties were mistakenly classified as duplexes, so they’re paying for two carts. Other residents complain that the city’s pricing tiers are inflexible and no longer allow households to share a cart. Still others say the new system provides little opportunity to cut costs by reducing the amount of trash generated.
Highland Park resident Peter Butler filed a lawsuit against the city in May, saying the new system’s pricing formula actually charges much less per gallon for residents with the largest carts, discouraging them from reducing the trash they generate.
Lein, who manages her family’s dozen rental properties, said that eight new carts have replaced a cheaper single dumpster at a couple of their fourplexes. “Why won’t the city talk to the haulers and negotiate?” she said. “It’s just mind-boggling.”
Lyn Rhodes, who owns a fourplex in the Hamline Midway neighborhood, said that each of her single-person apartments produced a single bag of trash per week — enough to fill a single 64-gallon cart. Now that she must pay for a cart per apartment, she said, her annual trash bill could rise from $500 to more than $1,500.
“I have not only signed the petition, I am actually carrying it with me,” Rhodes said Monday. “You have Mayor [Melvin] Carter saying, let’s make the city more affordable. This is not the way.”
Biales said the City Council decided to require paid service for all households, pointing to an estimated 10,000 households in the city that don’t pay for trash pickup. While some share carts or take trash to transfer stations, she said, “probably a fair number were not disposing in a responsible way.”
Residents can still reduce their costs by recycling more and composting and switching to a smaller trash cart, she said. But with the city distributing 74,000 carts by the end of September, St. Paul is asking people to wait until Jan. 1 to call their hauler to make a change.
Biales said officials aren’t surprised that they’re getting pushback.
It’s a big change, she said, “And we recognize it’s hard.”