Mounds View puts an end to the trash talk

On any given Mounds View street all four city-licensed trash-hauling companies can be seen represented by their garbage bins awaiting pick-up. The City Council has decided not to pursue looking into organized collection, which would essentially reduce the number of garbage trucks on individual residential streets to one truck, while dividing and designating geographical sections of the city to the hauling companies. (Jesse Poole/Bulletin)
On any given Mounds View street all four city-licensed trash-hauling companies can be seen represented by their garbage bins awaiting pick-up. The City Council has decided not to pursue looking into organized collection, which would essentially reduce the number of garbage trucks on individual residential streets to one truck, while dividing and designating geographical sections of the city to the hauling companies. (Jesse Poole/Bulletin)
Mounds View residents can choose from four licensed garbage haulers — Ace Solid Waste, Republic Services, Walters Recycling & Refuse and Waste Management. (Jesse Poole/Bulletin)
Mounds View residents can choose from four licensed garbage haulers — Ace Solid Waste, Republic Services, Walters Recycling & Refuse and Waste Management. (Jesse Poole/Bulletin)

Nazi Germany cited to underscore opposition to organized garbage collection

The trash talks are over, according to the Mounds View City Council, which said the contentious discussions concerning the city switching to an organized system of collecting garbage will be “discontinued.” 

After a large crowd showed up at the Jan. 25 city council meeting — with one resident after another standing up to speak against changing the way the city operates in regards to hauling trash — the council decided at its Feb. 1 work session that it would not pursue or research the issue further, for the time being anyway. 

At its Feb. 8 meeting, the council acted on the decision, making a unanimous 4-0 vote to end the discussion.

“This body has determined not to move forward with research or pursuing organized collection in Mounds View,” council member Carol Mueller said at the Feb. 8 meeting. Mueller has filled in as acting mayor for the past few meetings, as Mayor Joe Flaherty was out of town and then under the weather. 

According to city administrator Jim Ericson, this decision means terminating a planned 60-day exclusive negotiation process with hauling companies. He said the city will formalize a notice to the haulers “so that they’re on the same page.”  

Passion and threats

According to council members, countless calls, emails and letters have come in about the organized collection proposal.

Nine out of 10 of them opposed the idea, Mueller said. 

The reason the council dropped the discussion, however, was not necessarily due to the number of folks against it, but their drive.

“There was just a great deal of passion against this,” council member Gary Meehlhause said. “And that passion, we do not see on the other side.”

Part of that passion was unnerving, according to council member Sherry Gunn, who said at the work session that she was “ready to drop the whole thing.”

“It saddens me that I have to change my way of thinking due to name-calling and threats and angry people, and those who were unwilling to allow us to gather the information so that we could answer the questions they had,” Gunn said. “I’m willing to just forget about it.”

Mayor Flaherty said, “We have to understand, we’re talking about people’s beliefs,” pointing out that a lot of the residents they heard from believed it was their right to choose their own haulers. “People don’t care if you’re going to save them $10 a month when it comes down to their beliefs.” 

Dropped benefits

So why was the council exploring this change? Lowering monthly trash pickup fees was just one of the benefits of organized collection the council wished to look into.

Beyond that, Ericson said the council was hoping to research whether making the switch to having only one truck collecting trash in a neighborhood would take better care of the city’s infrastructure, into which Mounds View taxpayers have funneled millions of dollars, he said.

“By the end of 2016, the city will have invested $28 million into city streets and underground infrastructure,” Ericson said. “With the great expense of that, we wanted to do whatever we could — from maintenance to preventative maintenance — to extend the life of the streets to the greatest extent possible, just given the cost to replace them.”

Without taking business away from the hauling companies, Ericson said the city could limit the number of garbage trucks wearing out the streets.  

“Right now there could be any number of garbage trucks going up and down a residential street,” he said. “If we limited the number of heavier trucks or vehicles on the roads — and garbage trucks were identified as one of the heaviest that go up and down all of the residential streets on a weekly basis — we could possibly extend the life of the roadways.”

Another benefit, he said, was safety. With fewer large vehicles driving down city streets, there would be fewer opportunities for crashes or accidents. 

Keeping the status quo

“We’ve always had this open system in the city of Mounds View, and we’ve been a city for 50-some years,” Ericson said. “Garbage tends to be an emotional issue for people. It boils down their ability to choose their own hauler and making a change if they’re not happy with their hauler.”

The benefit to how it currently works, he said, is that if households are unhappy with their trash hauler, they can choose to switch. 

“We did a survey and found that most people were happy with their existing hauler, which makes sense because if they weren’t they’d make a change,” Ericson said.

He pointed out that if the city changed its system to organized collection, hauling companies wouldn’t necessarily lose customers.

For example, Ericson said, “If one hauler has 38 percent of the community in terms of customers, then the city would carve out 38 percent of the city and they would be the only hauler serving that section of the city, but they would still have the same number of customers as they did before.”

But according to commenting residents, the trouble is that those customers would in many cases be different customers; for example, someone who originally chose Ace Solid Waste might end up with Walters Recycling & Refuse, and vise versa.

Community feedback

The council made sure to thank residents for their feedback, both to a survey that was sent out, and to those who attended the council meetings and shared opinions. 

Mueller, as acting mayor, said at the beginning of the discussion at the Jan. 25 meeting: “Someone’s got to step up and get it rolling.” It was an invitation that quickly led to more than a dozen residents stepping up to the podium, one after another, to voice opinions on the city’s garbage collection. 

Residents asserted that organized collection was one step toward monopoly. Some suggested that the city should “not try to fix what is not broken.” 

One man questioned the ethics of the city, sarcastically wondering when city officials would start dictating where residents should buy groceries and gas. 

Mounds View resident Jim Perkins said he was strongly against looking into organized collection, and Godwin’s law — that as any heated discussion grows longer, the probability that a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler grows closer — rung true when he mentioned Germany’s former tyrannical regime.

“This is the United States; we’re not going to run into a dictatorship like they had in Germany during World War II,” he said. “We are not going to stand for that.”

Though saying he was not making a threat, Perkins told the council members that he would begin a campaign to get them booted out of office if they continued to study organized collection.

His, and many other residents’ similar comments were followed by applause filling the council chambers. 

Several residents did stand up to express interest in researching organized collection. 

In the end, however, Flaherty said, “We work for the people and we listened to what they say, and overwhelmingly, nobody wanted this to happen, so we decided not to pursue it further.”

Currently, Mounds View residents can choose from four licensed garbage haulers — Ace Solid Waste, Republic Services, Walters Recycling & Refuse and Waste Management.

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815. Follow him on Twitter @JPooleNews.

 

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