Trash rates of neighboring cities cannot be compared equally


Trash containers line the streets in northern North St. Paul for the Thursday morning pick-up. (Linda Baumeister/Reivew)

North St. Paul residents question why their trash collection rates are higher than Maplewood’s. (Linda Baumeister/Reivew)

Few things seem to get residents as riled up as city trash collection and the fees for those services. 

Some North St. Paul homeowners say they find it particularly vexing that their Maplewood neighbors pay less per month than they do. This frustration only grew when North St. Paul officials discovered they were supposed to be including the County Environmental Charge on bulk items.

“We do pay the CEC charge on the regular household trash. The question that was raised is whether we should be paying the CEC on the bulk items,” said Jason Ziemer, North St. Paul city manager. Ziemer explained that there was confusion about this being a flat fee instead of a service charge.

Ziemer has been in contact with Ramsey County, which said North St. Paul should be tacking on an additional 28 percent tax on its bulk item fee, but there’s a complication.

“Not everything that’s collected under the bulk item program is taxable because some of it’s considered recycling,” Ziemer said

According to Zack Hansen, a solid waste coordinating board member for Ramsey County, some charges, such as recycling, are exempt from the CEC. County officials are working with North St. Paul officials to determine exactly what should be taxed.

“There’s no conclusion yet,” Hansen said.

Even without this tax added to the resident trash fee, it seems that North St. Paul trash pick-up rates are higher than Maplewood’s rates even though both suburbs use the same contractor in their organized collection system. 

“I can see Maplewood from my front yard, and every Wednesday I can see the same trash hauling company pick up trash in Maplewood which has been set out in the same size container as mine for ... less cost,” complained North St. Paul resident John Schmahl.

According to Ziemer, contracts and rates can differ between communities, even those that are located next to each other. Some contributing factors include the length of the contract, the inclusion of fuel provisions and additional components of the city trash program.

For a 32-gallon weekly garbage bin, North St. Paul residents pay $12.94 per month before the 28 percent County Environmental Charge, and a residential Minnesota State Solid Waste Tax of 9.75 percent are added in. 

Maplewood recently renegotiated its trash-hauling fees. For a 32-gallon weekly garbage collection, Maplewood residents pay $10.44 after all taxes and fees. Last year they paid $10.85 for the same-sized garbage collection.

 

Contract age

The North St. Paul contract with Republic Services was formed about a decade ago. Originally the contract included a bulk collection program, which North St. Paul eventually took over. When North St. Paul gave the bulk collection program back to Republic, it added a few years onto the contract. 

North St. Paul officials are now in the process of revisiting their contract with Republic. Ziemer said that in order to renegotiate anything, Republic has to be a willing party because North St. Paul is locked into a contract with the company until 2019.

City officials are deliberating whether to renegotiate the whole contract or just the rates as a component of the contract. According to Ziemer, the concern is that if only the rates are renegotiated, the same contract may again be extended, and cities handle things differently today than they might in the future.

“At the end of the day, it ends up being a negotiation,” Ziemer said.

Maplewood signed its contract with Republic Services five years ago, in December 2011.

 

Fuel provision

North St. Paul’s trash collection contract does not include a fuel provision. This means when fuel costs are high, the trash contractor gets less profit because it is paying more for the fuel, but when fuel rates are low, the contractor is able to make a bigger profit. The city, meanwhile, pays a flat, unchanging fee for the contractor’s services.

Maplewood was recently able to renegotiate collection fees partially because its trash collection contract does include a fuel provision.

“Annually, the city [of Maplewood] meets with Republic Services and negotiates what the collections costs for the following year will be. ... The rate change is a mix of fuel and non-fuel factors including the change in the CPI from the previous year and the change in the tipping fee at the Resource Recovery Technologies plant in Newport,” said Chris Swanson, Maplewood environmental and code specialist.

Consumer Price Index or CPI is the measure of change in prices paid for these services. The tipping fee is the fee to dispose of waste at a landfill or waste processing facility. In addition to changes in the CPI and tipping fee, the residential trash fee is impacted by the change in indexed diesel prices.

 

Additional components

According to Swanson, Maplewood looks for bids annually for city facilities’ trash service. Some parks are included in that bid, but the city’s parks crews are responsible for transporting trash from most parks to a commercial dumpster which is emptied by the vendor weekly. 

Republic was the lowest bidder in 2016, so it currently collects the trash for city buildings and a few parks. This cost is covered by Maplewood’s general fund, so it does not get added to residential trash collection fees.

“North St. Paul is handled differently,” Ziemer said.

North St. Paul city workers pick up garbage from the parks and bring it to public works. From there it is hauled to the Resource Recovery Technologies plant where it is disposed of. 

“We have staff time associated with solid waste,” Ziemer said, and this is why those charges get coded to the trash fund. 

Republic Services is only responsible for the residential trash collection, while businesses are able to choose their own trash collector.

Bulk item pickup is another added component to residential trash fees. Bulk items include cumbersome items such as refrigerators, tires, air conditioners and computers.

In North St. Paul, residents are charged $3.18 monthly for unlimited bulk item pickups. They only need to call Republic Services and to schedule the pickup. 

In Maplewood, the bulk item pickup service is not a regular fee. Residents are charged for the specific items picked up in addition to their regular trash fee. For example, a tire without a rim costs $20 to be picked up, and appliances cost $30.

North St. Paul and Maplewood deal with trash disposal differently, and these differences affect how residents are charged. 

City officials emphasized that these differences make it difficult to compare “apples to apples” when it comes to the trash services and rates.

 

Aundrea Kinney can be reached at review@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822.

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