St. Paul trash collection fight could cost city $13 million

A fight over trash collection in St. Paul could cost the city millions of dollars.

City officials say they still have to fulfill contracts with trash haulers, despite a judge’s decision that orders an end to the program. That obligation will cost the city an estimated $13 million before the end of the year.

“I mean, the law is pretty clear on our side that citizens have a right to vote on any ordinance that the City Council passes,” said Peter Butler, a St. Paul resident.

Butler is a long-time St. Paul resident and plaintiff in the lawsuit against the city. Nearly two weeks ago, a judge ruled in Butler’s favor, saying the city can’t implement organized trash collection without a citizen vote.

“From the very get-go, even before they signed the contract, they were ignoring people’s concerns,” said Butler.

The city says it plans on appealing the judge’s decision.

“We’re not listening to people and it’s costing the city a lot of money,” said Councilman Kassim Busuri. 

Busuri says he is for organized trash collection, yet he thinks the city should allow the issue to go to a vote as a judge ordered.

“If 6,000 people put in a petition to put this on the ballot, this should be on the ballot,” said Busuri. “No questions asked. We shouldn’t be appealing, we shouldn’t be making stays. At the end of the day, the money we’re spending belongs to the people.”

The city plans to use money from the emergency reserve fund to pay the trash haulers, unless it is granted a stay in the case.

The judge’s decision would put organized trash collection on the ballot in November. Butler points out that every city council member will be up for re-election at the same time.

“They’re in a politically difficult place and it’s time to say, ‘We made a mistake,’” said Butler.