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MN Supreme Court: St. Paul voters can decide trash question

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Trash carts line an alley in St. Paul.
Trash carts line an alley between Stanford and Wellesley streets in St. Paul on June 5, 2019. MPR news file.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

St. Paul residents will be allowed to vote on whether to continue the city’s centralized trash collection.

On Thursday, the Minnesota Supreme Court ordered the question to be included on the ballot in the Nov. 5 election, upholding a lower court’s ruling.

The city launched its new garbage system in October, arguing it would streamline collection and reduce truck traffic.

Opponents circulated a petition requesting that voters be allowed to decide, but the City Council rejected the referendum, saying it would breach the city’s contract with garbage haulers.

Three St. Paul residents sued, arguing that denying the referendum violated the city’s charter. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the matter Tuesday.

Patricia Hartmann, one of the petition organizers, called the Supreme Court order “gratifying.”

"It's a great day. It's a victory for democracy,” she said. “It wasn't simple to get it this far. This project has been more than a year in the making at this point. I would never have realized how much work it was going to be."

Hartmann acknowledged that opponents still have a lot of work to do to win the referendum. She said they’ll work to make sure the question is clearly worded, and to let voters know what a yes or no vote means.

“We're hoping that the city plays it straight and chooses simple, clear language that people can as best as possible readily understand,” she said.

The City Council had already scheduled a special meeting for 4:30 p.m. Friday to decide whether to place the question on the ballot.

In a statement, St. Paul city officials said they comply with the order.

Mayor Melvin Carter stated, “We respect the decision from the Supreme Court and appreciate their clarity on how to proceed. The city will continue to ensure that garbage service continues uninterrupted, as we prepare for a referendum this fall.”