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Fight over St. Paul trash pickup accelerates

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Banners read "vote no."
Banners that read "vote no" are seen at a community event at Mancini’s Char House on West Seventh Street in St. Paul Monday night to encourage residents to vote against the city's trash collection referendum on the upcoming Nov. 5 election ballot.
Nina Moini | MPR News

Organizers on both sides of the trash collection debate in St. Paul are picking up the pace with five weeks left until the November election.

Lawn signs and T-shirts lined the tables inside Mancini’s Char House on West Seventh Street Monday night. The shirts read “trash wars” — with a play on the Star Wars logo. Organizers say that’s a fair comparison, since there have been several installments in St. Paul’s trash collection story.

Opponents of the city’s organized system gathered signatures to put the issue before voters. Though the St. Paul City Council opposed that move, a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling found the voters had a right to vote on the issue and that it be on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Tom Goldstein works on the campaign to convince residents to vote “no” against the ordinance that authorizes the centralized system. He said while the new program is supposed to reduce garbage truck traffic in city streets, it doesn’t go far enough to help the environment and may not be affordable for many residents.

”We are trying to, it seems, come up with a solution to a problem that exists for very few people,” Goldstein said.

Last week, the City Council approved a 22 percent limit on the 2020 property tax levy — a proposed hike aimed at covering the city should its garbage collection system get canned. Mayor Melvin Carter’s proposed 2020 budget asks for a much smaller property tax ceiling of 4.85 percent. But a majority of council members said they have to account for a nearly $30 million hole that would be left if voters decided not to accept the city’s new contract with specific haulers.

It’s why Ward 2 council member Rebecca Noecker voted last week to approve the property tax levy that she describes as a safety net.

”To vote for a 22.3 percent increase is really painful, and my strongly held hope is we can bring this down dramatically when we set the levy in December,” Noecker said.

Ward 7 council member Jane Prince was one of two who voted against the property tax maximum levy.

”The city needs to get back to basics, public safety, parks, libraries and street maintenance and stop continually raising property taxes as if we elected officials had a blank check,” Prince said.

Activist Javier Morillo agrees the trash collection debate is detracting from other important issues. He’s started a campaign to convince people to vote yes to the city-run plan. He’s also planning to distribute signs and talk with residents.

”The ballot question is asking St. Paul residents straight-forward questions: Can we do things collectively? And are we going to move forward or look backwards and spend money and resources on problems that have already been solved,” Morillo said.

All St. Paul City Council members are up for reelection in November. They have until the end of December to finalize a 2020 budget, including a final property tax levy.