Organized trash collection will roll on in St. Paul, even if the city has to tap its budget reserves to pay for it, Mayor Melvin Carter declared Friday.
At a news conference, Carter said the city intends to appeal a judge’s ruling Thursday that ordered St. Paul to suspend its garbage program by June 30. Ramsey County District Judge Leonardo Castro’s order placed on hold the fees that the city can charge property owners for trash collection.
No matter what happens in court, Carter said the city will not breach its five-year contract with a consortium of private haulers. That means paying the haulers for more than 73,000 households for the rest of 2019, which will cost an estimated $13 million, the mayor said.
The city might have to take that from budget reserves, which could result in higher property taxes in 2020, Carter said. Carter was asked if the city might move to paying for hauling through property taxes in the future.
“It’s a possibility,” he said.
City Council Member Jane Prince called the potential use of city budget reserves to pay haulers “deeply concerning.” She said she hopes to work with Carter and city staff to “investigate all possible solutions to this problem.”
On Thursday, Castro ruled in favor of St. Paul residents who sued to have the city’s organized trash collection system put to a vote.
He ordered that the system be suspended by the end of June until voters can decide whether they want the city to oversee their trash collection.
St. Paul residents had hired their own garbage haulers for years.
In 2017, the city reached a five-year agreement with a consortium of garbage haulers that standardized rates, pickup days and neighborhood assignments.
Organized trash collection began in October 2018.
Last year, the City Council rejected a petition from residents to put the issue up for a vote, prompting some to file suit this year asking for judicial intervention.
The city’s charter allows residents to petition to have ordinances put up for a vote.
Critics of the city’s organized trash system gathered 6,469 signatures asking that residents be allowed to vote on the ordinance governing collection, the judge wrote in his ruling.
The city responded by arguing that the city charter was pre-empted by state laws, and that putting the issue to a vote would amount to unconstitutional interference in the city’s contract with trash haulers.
Castro delayed suspension of the program for a month to give homeowners time to arrange their own services.
Carter, who was flanked by City Council President Amy Brendmoen, said that won’t be necessary. Trash collection is too important to the city’s health and safety responsibility, he said, to allow it to lapse.
“Trash collection will continue uninterrupted in St. Paul,” the mayor said.
If the ordinance is repealed by referendum, the city would likely need to raise property taxes to cover the cost of organized collection for 2020 and beyond.
Tom Goldstein, who has run for mayor and City Council and is a frequent critic of city tax and spending policies, said he is not surprised at Carter’s stance. Castro’s ruling, he said, allows the referendum to go forward while also recognizing the contract in place.
“There’s still a bill that has to be paid,” Goldstein said.
Still, Goldstein said, the city’s appeal of the ruling is a waste of money and time. He said city officials should admit they made a mistake in not allowing a referendum and then find a compromise with those suing the city. As it stands, residents will pay for this contract through the rates they’re charged or the taxes used to repay the city, he said.
“The city negotiated a bad contract — it did not protect itself,” he said. “One way or another, homeowners are left on the hook.”