Opponents of St. Paul’s organized trash collection delivered nearly 6,000 petition signatures to stop it, only days before trucks roll down alleys to start picking up garbage from the new city-issued bins.
The petition drive will not head off the city’s new trash collection system before it begins Monday. Still, opponents want a citywide vote as early as next year on a system they say will cost them more money for poorer service.
“People feel strongly about their right to choose services,” said Patricia Hartmann, one of the organizers of the petition drive.
If election officials determine that the 5,887 signatures are valid, the question could appear on the 2019 ballot, said Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky.
Opponents needed to turn in at least 5,000 signatures (8 percent of those who voted in the most recent mayoral election) before the end of the day Thursday to have their petition considered. Mansky’s office now will start comparing the names of those who signed against St. Paul voter registration records to determine if the signatures are valid.
If people signed the petition but recently changed their name or moved — or haven’t voted in the past four years — their signature might not count. That’s why petition organizers collected as many signatures as they did and are still gathering more, Hartmann said.
“The victory is that the people get to weigh in at all,” said Hartmann.
Starting Monday, 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 neighborhood assignments. The contract limits neighborhoods to a single garbage pickup day with a single hauler, a move city leaders say will cut pollution and wear and tear on city streets and alleys.
Opponents started lining up against the plan almost immediately, but momentum against the system has grown as homeowners have started to see early bills or had the wrong size cart delivered to their homes. Organizers say they had only 1,000 signatures in mid-August.
The main causes of angst? For many, the plan’s higher costs combined with not allowing homeowners to share a cart and not allowing them to choose their own hauler, said Kristin Becker, who said she produces only a small bag of trash monthly.
“St. Paul needs to look for other ways,” she said.
What is not clear is what will happen next. Mansky said that after his office determines that the petitions have enough valid signatures, it will be up to the City Council and city attorney to determine if it is appropriate to put it to a citywide vote. City Council President Amy Brendmoen on Thursday referred questions to City Attorney Lindsey Olson.
Olson did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
St. Paul Public Works Director Kathy Lantry said St. Paul’s charter calls for an ordinance that’s the subject of a referendum to be suspended until an election is held — possibly as soon as a special election Feb. 12, 2019. But, she said, the city’s contract with the haulers may supersede that. Both the city and the consortium have added staff, bought equipment and incurred costs to gear up for Monday.
“We have a valid contract with St. Paul Haulers LLC and we intend to honor that,” Lantry said. “We are proceeding with business as usual.”