A vote to reject St. Paul's system of organized trash collection could result in a hefty property tax increase, Mayor Melvin Carter warned Friday.

If the city's contract with a consortium of haulers remains in effect, and voters reject a city ordinance that established the trash program, Carter said the city would have to pay an estimated $27.1 million to haulers and require a 17.4% increase in St. Paul's property tax levy.

"We have a responsibility to make sure our residents have garbage service to protect and sustain the public health of our entire city," he said during a Friday afternoon news conference outside the mayor's office at City Hall.

Opponents of the trash plan, who successfully sued to ensure that it went to a ballot in the fall, accused the mayor of engaging in scare tactics. Several stood nearby as Carter spoke.

"He's just trying to influence the vote," said Lynn Connolly, a North End resident who has opposed the plan.

On Thursday, the state Supreme Court affirmed a lower court's ruling that St. Paul's charter requires a referendum to be placed on the ballot. Because the court expedited the appeal to give officials time to put the issue on the Nov. 5 ballot, the rationale behind the court's ruling will come later.

Without that detail, Carter said, it's unclear whether a vote to reject the organized trash plan would also cancel St. Paul's five-year contract with a consortium of private trash haulers.

"Our path forward won't be completely clear until we receive that information," Carter said.

The court's ruling keeps the system in place at least through the Nov. 5 vote. Because of that, the mayor encouraged St. Paul property owners to pay their garbage bills for the next quarter, which they should receive in early October.

Trash plan opponents say that language in the contract protects the city from having to pay if voters decide to repeal the ordinance. Without an ordinance, they said, there is no authority to make a contract.

Carter and other city officials, however, say they aren't so sure. They said Friday they hope the Supreme Court will provide more clarity on that point in the coming weeks.

"While the election's outcome may impact the rules around our hauling program, the city will continue to ensure that our garbage is picked up, both through and beyond Election Day," Carter said. "Unless otherwise indicated by the Supreme Court, the city's contract with haulers remains in effect, and we will continue to operate under its terms."