How to collect trash in St. Paul has become a major issue — so big that citizens will vote the current garbage hauling system up or down on Tuesday. In the past year, the issue has generated two state Supreme Court decisions, several City Council challengers, the referendum itself and racially charged threats against the city’s African-American mayor.
All over trash — and whether the mayor and City Council listen to citizens. The Star Tribune Editorial Board believes the greater good is served with organized trash collection and a yes vote on the ballot question.
Introduced in October 2018, the current system divides St. Paul into several sections, then contracts with and assigns a private hauler. It also requires every housing unit to have its own bin, thus eliminating bin-sharing options. Residents must pay the haulers the rates assigned by the city, and residents can’t contract independently for lower rates.
Opponents collected more than 6,000 signatures to place the measure on the ballot, which the council rejected. But opponents went to court, and in August the state Supreme Court sided with them. Then in an October ruling, the high court said that regardless of the outcome of the referendum, the city must honor the five-year pact with haulers.
That means, according to Mayor Melvin Carter, that the city could be on the hook for $27 million per year. In response, the City Council set the levy limit at 22% to cover the cost if the referendum passes and the city can no longer require residents to pay haulers.
Opponents called the move a “scare tactic,” arguing that the city hasn’t done enough to explore alternative ways to break that contract or reduce costs. They argue that voting no still matters because it would force the city and the haulers to negotiate a better deal.
Some contract changes are needed. That’s a fact that all City Council candidates seem to recognize because of complaints about pricing, bin-sharing and the inability of zero-waste households to opt out. St. Paul voters should hold council members to those pledges.
City-organized trash collection remains the most eco-friendly way to handle waste, reducing the number of heavy trucks on the roads. St. Paul voters should vote yes on Nov. 5.