More than half of St. Paul's Public Works budget for organized trash collection in 2019 will go toward paying residents' delinquent bills.
The new trash collection system will cost the city's Public Works department about $5.4 million in 2019, according to a city financial analysis. The city initially budgeted about $2.6 million, knowing the amount of money needed to operate organized hauling would change when delinquent bills came due, said Public Works spokeswoman Lisa Hiebert.
"As we're going through these first phases, we have more realistic numbers so we can set up the budget to recognize those expenses accordingly," Hiebert said. "The money's always been there — now we're just really identifying it more clearly in the budget."
The city collects a solid waste fee from all residents, which will cover about $2.8 million owed to haulers because of residents not paying their bills. Residents will eventually pay that money back in the form of property tax assessments, Hiebert said.
City officials expect that the cost of covering delinquent bills will eventually drop as residents get used to the new system, Hiebert said.
"The delinquent payments are kind of at the high-water mark, so to speak," she said.
The financial analysis also reflects that the city will pay for fewer mailers and other materials to educate residents about the new program and will hire two full-time and one part-time staff member to resolve complaints and deal with delinquent bills.
The budget amendment also includes money for the Department of Safety and Inspections to field resident phone calls related to organized trash pickup; the city previously contracted with an outside call center.
The City Council will hold a public hearing Wednesday before voting on whether to approve the budget change.
Organized trash collection began in the fall of 2018 and has drawn criticism from residents who say they preferred the old system, which allowed them to choose their own hauler — or none at all. Early online comments about the proposed budget change repeated those complaints.
North End urban farmer Luke Stultz said he tries to generate as little trash as possible and has stopped paying for trash hauling. He said he's concerned that city taxpayers will have to shoulder the burden of city spending on the trash program.
Stultz and fellow online commenter Eric Lein, a Summit-University resident and landlord who has also stopped paying his trash bills, both said they will try to attend the public hearing Wednesday.
"My hope is that City Council members will actually look at this," Lein said. "My pessimistic view of public hearings is they already know what they're going to do."