Minnesota Supreme Court Rules on Ballot Vote on Trash Contract
The Minnesota Supreme Court released an opinion this week answering many of the disputed questions regarding St. Paul’s public referendum on trash collection. The court determined that even if a majority of St. Paul voters vote “No” on the public referendum, the five-year contract between the city and a group of trash haulers will remain largely the same.
The city-wide debate regarding trash collection for one to four unit residential buildings has been an ongoing dispute since the five-year contract was signed. The legal battle, stemming from the recently closed case of Bruce Clark et al. v. City of St. Paul, has created tension between the city, landlords and “zero-wasters,” who argue that the system of organized trash collection should have been put to a public ballot. Originally, people protesting the city’s new trash collection system urged voters to vote “no” on the referendum to cancel the trash contract and demand more affordable collection rates. Early voting commenced weeks ago, but with this decision, the referendum will no longer answer the question about whether or not the coordinated trash collection system will continue, but it will still answer the question of who pays for the cost of trash collection. The contract with trash collectors will cost $27.1 million and it will be paid, depending on the outcome of this vote, by either individual ratepayers or all property tax payers in the city.
The court determined that the referendum could still go to ballot. But it would not have much of an effect on the city’s trash collection contract because there are other local ordinances not subject to the referendum that still require some form of city-wide trash collection. The city’s legislative code requires residents to have some form of waste collection service and obligates cities to ensure that some level of residential trash collection exists at least every other week. For now, the city will have to wait and see what happens at the ballot before making any more decisions on how the city and its residents will pay for the trash collection contract.