What's going on with St. Paul's trash collection?

Residents have scored a victory in their lawsuit against the city's new organized collection system.
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Mayor Melvin Carter has promised that St. Paul residents will still get their garbage taken away, even though a court ordered the city to suspend its organized collections as of June 30.

A judge found in favor of a lawsuit brought by a group of citizens who want to revert back to the old system of trash collection, which had residents contract private vendors to take away their garbage.

The court ordered that the decision to move to organized collection – which charges citizens standardized rates for citywide garbage pickup – should be put to a public referendum this November.

The ruling has put a question mark over what would happen to collections between July and then.

But on Friday, Mayor Carter has said the city will appeal the decision, and in the meantime will honor its contract with the private haulers it had hired to carry out the organized collections.

That's expected to cost the city $13 million, with Carter saying he might have to tap budget reserves, or increase property taxes, to cover it.

How did we get here?

The city transitioned to a centralized collection system in October, giving haulers designated routes to collect trash across the city.

The move was not without controversy. Opponents of centralized collection have said the privatized system is better for recycling and composting, and have emphasized the importance of personal choice.

A group of concerned residents, who have deemed themselves St. Paul Trash, then petitioned the St. Paul City Council to leave the decision up to citizens in the form of a referendum. The petition had more than 6,469 signatures, which the council found to satisfy requirements for a referendum.

But the council also stated it has the authority to make such decisions without a vote, rejecting the petition in November.

St. Paul Trash responded by suing the city in February. With three residents listed as plaintiffs, the organization states its petition and number of signatures means the city must put the referendum on the November ballot.

A Thursday decision by Ramsey County District Court Judge Leonardo Castro agreed with the plaintiffs. In a memo released Thursday, Castro states the council did not properly exercise its authority in blocking the petition.

“... it was improper exercise of power for the Council to refuse to place the Referendum on the November 2019 ballot,” the memo reads.

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Supporters of organized collection include Ward 2 City Council Member Rebecca Noecker, who said the following on Facebook Friday.

“I support organized collection. While it is far from perfect, our new system is providing quality service at consistent rates citywide, reducing illegal dumping, and decreasing the number of trucks on our streets and the wear and tear and pollution that come along with them."

The Star Tribune reports that the organized collection system has reduced traffic and confusion over pricing, making it cheaper for some, albeit not all residents.

But at the same time, the city has seen half of its trash haulers leave town, while the new system has faced problems — including some residents refusing to pay their bills. 

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