A Letter from Council President Stark on Coordinated Collection

Greetings,

As you may realize, state law lays out the process by which cities can consider organized collection systems and St. Paul has been following that state-mandated process.  On July 26, the City Council voted to authorize staff to enter final negotiations with the haulers to develop a final contract.  I have heard from many constituents and residents from Ward 4 and beyond on this issue, and the concerns and feedback have a few consistent themes. I wanted to share my thoughts on those themes, as well as provide some broader context. It's a complex issue and I am considering what is best for the City overall.   

First, I want to make sure you understand the proposal before us -- it is for the existing 15 licensed private trash haulers in St. Paul to create a consortium that would provide trash collection for all residents in 1-4 unit dwellings across the City at a unified price and with uniform standards of service.  The haulers would divvy up the City into routes. The number of households served by each hauler would be based on their current market share.  As such, the proposal should not eliminate jobs or negatively impact the haulers.  Some residents feel strongly about being able to choose their own provider, but to me some services are such basic necessities that they are better approached as a system rather than ad hoc.  We may be the largest remaining City in the country without an organized trash collection system.  

If the City is not able to agree to the haulers proposal, the City has the option of putting trash collection services out for a Request for Proposals (RFP) from licensed haulers.  While an RFP for trash services would have some advantages over negotiating with all 15 haulers, the inevitable result would be that 1 or in any case fewer than the existing 15 licensed haulers would win the contract to serve the City. The cost would likely be less than the current proposal, but this approach goes against what we heard residents wanted, (link to community feedback) which was to keep all of the small, local haulers serving Saint Paul.  Currently, based on state law, the negotiated deal with the 15 haulers and the RFP are the only 2 ways we could go about organizing collection.

Cost of Service

I have heard from residents whose costs will go up under the current proposal from haulers. Some of these residents are currently hauling their own trash, sharing service with neighbors, are environmentally conscious and have reduced their waste stream significantly by recycling and composting, or have organized their blocks to negotiate a better rate with one hauler.  

Today, some people pay as little as $11/month and some pay as much as $70/month for the same exact service. According to the data we collected from residents across the City who sent us their bills, the proposed rates (including up to 3 bulky items) represent a slight decrease from what the average St. Paul household is paying today.  Haulers today have very different prices for the same service, and can agree to a low price for one customer or group of customers believing they can make up for it by charging others more and increasing prices every year for customers that just keep paying the bills without shopping around or negotiating. When all 15 haulers must come together to make a proposal they can all live with that has one set price, those customers currently paying on the low end will inevitably have to pay more and those paying on the high end will pay less.

While the City Council last week authorized City staff to go forward with negotiations toward a final contract, we also made clear that we would like to see lower prices in the final contract for those who produce very little trash (the price for the smallest can and for every other week service). I also believe that after the term of a first contract (5 or 7 years), the City will be in a much stronger position to make additional changes to the program and pricing structure to incentivize waste reduction, recycling, and composting through the cost of service.  An organized system where all haulers bring the trash to the Ramsey and Washington County Resource Recovery Facility also lays the groundwork for the City to offer household organics (compost) collection in the near future. 

Cost of Administration

The proposal does include 3 new City staff who would coordinate the new program, enforce the terms of the contract, and follow-up on any complaints about haulers and service delivery.  The administration fee is not determined via the negotiations with haulers, but in the City’s budget process, which is about to get underway in August.  There is a high likelihood that the administration cost will go down over the life of the program, particularly after the first contract period (5 or 7 years), but perhaps sooner.

Sharing/ “Opting Out”

Requiring everyone to have the service is about the only way the City can ensure that the new system will significantly cut back on illegal dumping.  Similarly, having everyone pay for the disposal of up to 3 bulky items is the only way we could come up with to create a strong disincentive for those who dump large items to avoid paying the extra costs of disposal. 

Were the system to allow residents to “opt-out” it would fail to meet two primary goals -- to have everyone have consistent trash service and to prevent illegal dumping.  The Council has also directed the staff negotiating the final contract with haulers to try to figure out if having two homeowners share service in one small can is practical and enforceable. 

Equity

While it may be possible for those with resources and know-how to organize with our neighbors and negotiate with a hauler for a better price, this is not true in many of St. Paul’s neighborhoods where many homes are rental properties and many homeowners do not speak English as their first language.  It’s important that prices be the same for the same service for all residents and neighborhoods across the City, and that is not the case today.  Illegal dumping also occurs disproportionately in neighborhoods in St. Paul with lower property values, and the presence of dumped trash in the alley further diminishes property values in these neighborhoods.

The Big Picture

The proposed system leaves some things to be desired and does not look like a system that you would build if you were starting from scratch.  However, the proposed system has a lot of advantages, and those advantages are consistent with what we heard residents wanted. Everyone will benefit in a big way from less truck traffic, noise and air pollution, a measurable reduction in the City’s carbon footprint, less wear and tear on city streets and alleys, and less illegal dumping in alleys, parks, and streets around St. Paul. 

Staff will now begin negotiating a contract with the 15 haulers based on the preliminary agreement.  It is our hope that a contract will be finalized this fall, with the new organized trash collection system beginning in the fall of 2018.  

Best,

Russ Stark