St. Paul’s trash makes its way to the state Supreme Court on Tuesday.
The high court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in a case that will determine whether St. Paul must put its fledgling trash program to a public vote. Opponents of the plan collected more than 6,000 signatures requiring a referendum, but the City Council refused. City leaders said a referendum would illegally void their contract with haulers.
A ruling in favor of the city would keep St. Paul’s organized trash collection program in place for the remaining four years of a contract with a consortium of haulers. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the opponents, it would put the plan to a Nov. 5 vote.
The current system would remain in place, no matter the ruling. That’s because Mayor Melvin Carter has promised that even if St. Paul loses its appeal, the city will continue paying haulers from budget reserves before moving the cost onto property tax bills. A rejection of the collection system would not void the city’s contract with haulers, the city says.
The rollout of St. Paul’s organized trash collection has been anything but straightforward.
The City Council reached agreement in November 2017 with a consortium of 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 meant to also cut pollution and noise on city streets and alleys. The new system debuted on Oct. 1, 2018.
It was the first time 73,000 households were not in charge of finding their own hauler and negotiating their own price.
From the start, there were St. Paul residents who welcomed the new system for reducing garbage truck traffic down their streets and alleys. There were also those who decried what they considered the program’s limited choices, including the ability to pick their own hauler or share a cart with others.
Opponents spent months gathering enough signatures to require a referendum. But the City Council rejected putting it on the ballot after City Attorney Lyndsey Olson said a referendum would unlawfully infringe on the contract with haulers.
Plan opponents then sued, saying the council’s action violated the city’s charter. In May, Ramsey County Judge Leonardo Castro agreed and ordered the question be placed on the November ballot. Castro also ordered the city’s plan to be suspended, but he put that on hold until the Supreme Court weighs in.
Arguments are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the second-floor courtroom of the State Capitol.