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St. Paul garbage vote: Debate centers on how to get a better contract

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People wait for a forum to start.
Residents of St. Paul attend a debate on Tuesday hosted by the League of Women Voters of St. Paul and St. Paul Neighborhood Network about the city's trash referendum that'll be on Nov. 5 election ballot.
Nina Moini | MPR News

A referendum on whether the city of St. Paul should organize trash collection for residents appears to have galvanized voters to turn out, even before Nov. 5.  On Tuesday, a debate over the referendum showed the antagonists agree on one thing: the city will organize trash collection.

Hosted by the League of Women Voters of St. Paul, the event featured the two community groups calling themselves "Vote No" and "Vote Yes."

Residents who battled the City Council for a vote, and those who advocate to keep the new system all said there’s room for improvement in the contract St. Paul has with its current trash haulers. They disagreed on how to get a better deal.

The people who took all the seats in the St. Paul Neighborhood Network studio, and spilled into an overflow room came to hear more about a controversial Nov. 5 ballot question that asks voters if they want to vote “yes” to uphold an ordinance that created city-run organized trash collection or “no” to scrap it.

Before the organized trash collection began last year, residents arranged their own trash pickup.

A group of residents sued St. Paul and won the fight to let voters decide whether they wanted the new streamlined trash collection system, which the city argues reduces truck traffic and limits illegal dumping.

Eventually, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that regardless of the outcome of the referendum, the contract between the city and the garbage haulers remains intact.

Tom Goldstein from the Vote No group told the audience the city’s contract is too expensive for low-income residents and people who don’t produce a lot of garbage.  He argued that doing away with the ordinance that created the city-run plan will create the best leverage for the city to renegotiate with garbage haulers for a better contract for residents.

”Let’s fix it, what’s the problem with fixing it. Good will isn’t going to fix it. Getting back to the bargaining table is what’s going to fix it,” Goldstein said.

The Vote Yes group, represented during the debate by Javier Morillo, said keeping the ordinance is the most practical first step.

”A first contract is not everything that we want. We improve contracts as we go along,” Morillo said.

It was clear to Macalester-Groveland resident Kristen Poppleton that both sides believe organized garbage hauling will be the city’s future.

”I really feel like both sides are saying the same thing. The trash system that was set up was not the best and we need to fix it,” she said.

Mayor Melvin Carter insists that if the ordinance is defeated, property tax payers will have to cover the $27 million the city owes haulers and that any amendments to the contract would require 100 percent agreement from all the garbage haulers.

Watch the debate provided by SPNN