A judge’s ruling last week has thrust St. Paul’s months-old system of organized trash collection into question. Ramsey County District Judge Leonardo Castro ordered the ordinance suspended June 30 until voters can decide whether it should continue. A day later, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said the city will appeal the ruling and promised the program will continue, even if the city has to pay haulers from budget reserves and raise taxes later to make up the difference.
The legal battle has created plenty of confusion among residents about what will happen with this basic city service. Here are answers to some common questions.
What’s the dispute about?
In 2017, the City Council approved a five-year contract with a consortium of private haulers, standardizing rates, pickup days and neighborhood assignments for 73,000 households in single-family homes to fourplexes. It’s a dramatic shift for a city that for generations left property owners in charge of getting rid of garbage. The new system rolled out Oct. 1, 2018, and, immediately, thousands of residents objected.
Some object because they’re paying more, some because they can no longer share carts with neighbors, some because the plan doesn’t offer enough price flexibility for producing scant waste. Last year, more than 6,400 people signed a petition demanding the ordinance be put to a public vote. The City Council refused, saying it would breach the contract with haulers.
So, what happens June 30?
If the city cannot invalidate Castro’s ruling, it will lose the authority to force residents to pay for trash collection. The mayor said Friday the city will have to pay haulers directly. If the city prevails, residents will keep paying the bill.
Will my trash still be picked up?
Yes. City officials say organized trash collection will continue whether residents pay haulers or the city does.
Do I have to pay my bill?
If the city loses its appeal, it’s unlikely. In that case, the city will pay the haulers at least through the end of the year — an estimated $13 million — and, possibly, for several more years if a referendum is held Nov. 5 and voters reject the ordinance.
Do I have to find my own hauler?
No. City officials say the contract keeps its system of assigned haulers and neighborhoods intact — even if the city loses its appeal and, later, if residents repeal the ordinance.
Are my property taxes going up to pay for this?
Maybe. If the city loses its appeal, the 2020 levy will likely go up to replenish reserves used to pay haulers in 2019. If voters later repeal the ordinance, the City Council will likely raise future taxes to cover the life of the contract.
Will there be a referendum?
Only if the city loses its appeal. Then St. Paulites will decide the future of organized trash collection.