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City approves new trash plan

By Frederick Melo

fmelo@pioneerpress.com

In St. Paul, a “pick your own hauler” tradition that dates back to the 1970s is about to get dumped.

By this time next year, the city will likely oversee residential garbage collection, leaving only one trash truck serving each alley.

After 14 months of negotiations, seven contract proposals and 10 drafts, St. Paul officials say they have reached an agreement for coordinated collection with the city’s 15 private waste haulers. The city council will vote on the contract next Wednesday and set rates the following week.

“This contract allows us to provide residents with efficient and equitable service at reasonable and uniform rates,” Mayor Chris Coleman said in a written statement. “It also ensures that all current haulers will maintain their market share, which was one of my top priorities. It is the right direction for garbage collection in Saint Paul.”

TRASH COLLECTION, 8A


Bobby Stewart, head of operations with Highland Sanitation, said while he and other haulers had been opposed to coordinated collection, “it is a plan that we can live with and shouldn’t endanger our ability to survive as a business.”

City officials say the proposal incorporates most — though not all — of their 17 goals, from implementing predictable rates and services to reducing the number of trucks on city streets.

“We had a long list, and we feel very good that we hit these priorities,” said Kris Hageman, the city’s recycling and solid waste program manager.

The new five-year agreement mirrors a previous proposal that was presented to the council in July, with some key changes. Prices for the smallest trash cart size and every-other-week collection have dropped 10 percent. Customers who choose those options can dispose of two “bulky” items — such as a couch, refrigerator or desk— annually at no additional cost, instead of three items.

In addition, the city’s annual administrative fee has been cut by more than half, dropping from $52.56 to $24.60 per household.

The new system is expected to roll out in October 2018, but if routing and cart purchases aren’t ready by then, implementation will be delayed until April 2019 to avoid a winter start-up.

Public Works Department officials have been studying ways to consolidate trash collection since 2012, when the Macalester-Groveland Community Council began its own studies and community outreach.

Despite fervent industry opposition, the city council approved organized trash collection in July 2016, setting the stage for difficult conversations with the city’s 15 residential trash haulers, some of whom have serviced the same streets for generations.

Under state statute, if an agreement with the haulers could not be reached, the city could issue a request for proposals. The new contract avoids that possibility.

CITY PRIORITIES

Hageman said under the current system, city surveys showed dramatic differences in rates and services, even between neighbors who contract the same hauler.

Because not everyone subscribes to trash collection, low-income areas such as Frogtown also reported hefty problems with illegal dumping, costing the city upwards of $200,000 annually in cleanup.

In addition to “uniform, stable, reasonable rates,” with fewer trucks, there’s also the benefit of less noise, less air pollution and safer streets and alleys, Hageman said.

She said the city’s priorities included allowing smaller, independent haulers to keep their existing share of customers. Under the latest proposal, each hauler will be assigned to service a series of blocks or neighborhoods equivalent to at least as many customers as they had in February 2016.

The contract, which applies to collection at one- to four-unit residential buildings, does not allow households to opt out of service entirely, as some customers currently do. As a result, some haulers could see their customer base expand.

THE DETAILS CART SERVICE: Households can opt for weekly collection of small (32 gallon), medium (65 gallon) or large (95 gallon) carts. There’s also the option of a small cart collected every other week. Free walk-up service is available for the elderly and disabled. Customers cannot opt out of collection entirely.

RATES: Monthly costs after state and county taxes are $19.79 for collection every other week, $22.85 for weekly collection in a small cart, $32.03 in a medium cart and $34.15 in a large cart. An annual administrative fee adds about $2 per month. Snowbirds can opt to suspend service for the season.

ANNUAL FEES: The city will collect a $24.60 annual administrative fee per household, which will be added to property taxes. The fees will cover customer outreach and education materials, implementation and city staffing, including overseeing cash flow.

ADDITIONAL CARTS: Extra carts are $5, on top of a disposal fee of $2.40 to $8.93, depending upon cart size.

BULKY ITEMS: For customers who choose small carts, two bulky items such as mattresses, tires, furniture, appliances or electronics will be collected annually at no additional charge with a work order. For customers who choose medium or large carts, three bulky items will be included. Disposal of one Christmas tree is included.

ADDITIONAL BULKY ITEMS: Additional bulky items will cost $10 for a chair, rimless tire or area rug-sized items, $20 for small desks and baby crib-sized items, and $35 for larger items such as televisions, heavy metal desks or roomsize carpets .

ROUTING: Under the contract proposal, at least 51 percent of the city will get trash and recycling picked up on the same date. Public Works officials plan to spend the next year studying routing options. They believe that many customers with small, local haulers will be able to keep them.

BILLING: Haulers will handle their own billing, which must now be uniform to include cash, check, credit, debit and online payment options.

WAGE STANDARDS: The proposal does not include a “Labor Peace” agreement that would allow employees of the trash haulers to unionize, but it does set “Living Wage” standards that include a $20 per hour minimum wage for drivers, on top of benefits and new worker safety standards.

PROCESSING: Trash will be processed at the Ramsey-Washington Recycling and Energy Center. As Ramsey County adjusts its pricing, the St. Paul contract will adjust as well.

CART MAINTENANCE: The city will purchase 78,000 carts, which will be maintained and replaced by the haulers themselves.

ADD-ON SERVICES: Customers can add additional services for a price. Extra trash bags placed outside the cart will be billed $3 per bag. Yard waste will be collected at $120 per season or $3 per bag. Walkup service for residents who are not seniors or disabled is $25 per month. Off-day service pickup is $40 per month.

CUSTOMER SERVICE: The contract includes limits on late payment fees, as well as charges, or “liquidated damages,” for haulers that skip homes or fail to deliver adequate customer service.

ANNUAL ADJUSTMENTS: Certain costs built into the overall price of trash collection could be adjusted annually. Fuel costs make up 10 percent of base costs, which range from $9.07 to $11.88. If the cost of diesel fuel averages more than $3.50 for 12 months, fuel costs can be adjusted up, and they can also go back down.

DATA COLLECTION: City officials say that under the existing system, they had little way of determining how much garbage residents produce and what percentage goes into their recycling bins. Annual audits on disposal costs and reporting requirements will make that data available.

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