In no time, Minnesota will come to a public referendum, and one of the main concerns will be trash collecting. St. Paul city in this state already has a five-year contract that is in power only for a year now, with a union of trash haulers. If it happens that on November 5th, most voters say “no,” on the referendum, this contract will continue to be valid, and it will remain mostly intact, as the Supreme Court in Minnesota stated in their written announcement.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Mayor of St. Paul city, Melvin Carter, said that trash services would keep doing their job without being interrupted, no matter what. Actually, he pointed out that this referendum that is about to happen doesn’t even bring into question the current system they have for collecting trash in the city. Instead, the main debate will be how the city will pay for its services. If the current contract is voided, the city will no longer give $27.1 million annually. In fact, each citizen who is registered as a taxpayer will pay taxes for trash collecting themselves.
The main benefit of this is increasing the city’s taxes by 17% each year. Of course, this is a benefit for the city, and not for the citizens. However, this way, the money will be invested in something else that can benefit everybody. Actually, there are still some small companies and private properties that are not receiving garbage services, and this way, that would change too, since they will be obliged to find the service that suits them the most.
Actually, none of this would even happen if there wasn’t for certain citizens. So this city has to thank the people who came up with this idea, and during the last year, they obtained approximately 6,000 signatures, which is more than enough to make a referendum. There are a lot of zero-waste people who think that the current system is terrible, costly, and complex.
On the other hand, members that are part of the “St. Paul Trash” alliance are encouraging citizens to vote “no” and ask for more affordable rates. They provided the public with a written statement saying that voting “no” gives them the chance to fix problems with the current system they have, and they would also have a chance to prevent raising the taxes. Alisa Lein, property manager, claims that there are some other options that are far better than this one, which is why she is looking for negotiation with the city government.
What About the Other Rules That Are Not Part of the Referendum?
Justice Lorie Gildea, who is a chief of St. Paul city, thinks that each city needs to guarantee at least some level of residential trash collection. According to her, it should be done in periods of every two weeks. Actually, there is a variety of local rules that could make this happen even if the Rule 18–39 is shot down by the voters.
The court did respond to his concerns and said that rules that are not subject of the referendum actually fulfill those conditions. Additionally, the legislature wanted to give part of the authority to municipalities, so they can establish and arrange waste-collecting by themselves the way they find suitable.
In fact, there are other rules that are not subject to this referendum, and they can be found in the city’s legislative code. Those are mostly chapters 32 and 34, and they say that all residents need to have some form of trash collecting service.
Let’s take a look at Chapter 32. It says that all building owners need to provide the trash collecting services, which allows the city to charge the cost that is related to garbage service. This chapter also gives the city the power to initiate this form of services if they find that necessary. Also, they can charge the costs for those initiations.
There is also Chapter 34, and it requires that citizens always have to maintain the exterior of their property, no matter whether the city organizes trash-collecting or not. And one of the things about maintaining the property is keeping it clean and sanitary. There shouldn’t be any accumulation of trash, and therefore the residents of buildings are in obligation by law to find the collecting service.
Will $27 Million Be Transferred to Property Taxes?
It’s been a couple of months, and there are still some concerns whether this referendum will ruin the five-year contract that is already in power for one year. This is actually one of the main concerns of both city officials and the people that support the “Vote No” idea.
In November 2017, the city made a contract that is worth $27 million (we are talking about a yearly payment), and what actually happened while Mayor Chris Coleman was in power. A year after that, the first trash trucks were placed around the city.
The court has its doubts that this contract would be severed, even if it were temporarily impaired. They even said that this Ordinance 18–39 is not actually focused on the contract itself, but that they were more focused on unpaid bills, taxes, and other practical regulations. They also pointed out that the city can find other ways to meet their contractual obligations.
Another thing that the court recognized is that if the contract is successfully repealed, that may leave the city with huge gaps in the enforcement mechanisms that are listed in the city’s contract with haulers. Anyhow, they claimed that all those possibilities might eventually harm the contract, but they do not break the city’s contractual obligation that already exists.
The St. Paul City Council is actually fighting for the possibility to transfer $27 million to property taxes in 2020. Not so long ago, they approved the preliminary tax levy that would actually raise the overall amount of taxes. They are hoping to raise the minimum amount by 22% during the next year.
Taxes for 2020 can still be reduced by the time the council adopts the final budget. That will happen in December, and it cannot go up from there.
‘Force Majeure’ Clause, What Good Can It Bring?
Several candidates from the city council alongside the citizens that are supporters of “Vote No” said that this contract contains a “Force Majeure” clause. Furthermore, if something that is outside the city’s control happens, the trash service will stop, and they disagree with that. The court, on the other hand, didn’t seem to be concerned about their disagreements. They didn’t go into discussion and called that irrelevant.
The court gave a footnote on page 22, where, in 50 words, they explained that this referendum wouldn’t even obstruct the service at all. In addition, they noted that all the worries that existed are resolved by the city surrounding the contract. Therefore, they rejected this claim about the “Force Majeure” clause.
The lead accuser in the lawsuit against the city used the power of social media and posted his reaction on this footnote. He went on the “St. Paul Trash” Facebook page and wrote, “Is this justice?” He thinks that the major factor in the whole controversy about this trash issue is ignored. According to him, this is nothing more but ridiculous.