Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Complaints slow, but people still refusing to pay trash bills

Posted on 12 May 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Rate of residents not paying bills still at about 11%

By Jane McClure
St. Paul residents have had organized trash collection for six months. While complaints have slowed down, there are still people refusing to pay their bills. That was a key takeaway in a report delivered April 24, 2019 to the St. Paul City Council.
St. Paul Department of Public Works solid waste program supervisor Christopher Swanson reviewed the data from the program progress thus far. While council members are pleased about some aspects of the program, other areas were targeted for improvement. Questions remain on other issues, as to whether or not organized collection has resulted in fewer instances of illegal dumping.
The City Council is due for another report on organized collection in September. While the council is monitoring the trash issues closely, there is a five-year contract in place between the city and haulers. The ability to make changes is limited.
In the meantime, the St. Paul Trash group is pushing ahead with its lawsuit against the city. They return to Ramsey County District Court May 9. One goal is to put the question of organized trash collection on an election ballot.
Since October 2018 St. Paul has required single-family, duplex, triplex and fourplex properties to have city-supplied trash carts and haulers assigned by district. While that pleases people who complained about illegal dumping and too many trash trucks in an alley or on a street, other decried the loss of choice of hauler and the ability to comparison-shop. Another complaint is no longer being able to share a cart with a neighbor.
A fourth issues foes raise is that about half of the firms that were initially involved in organized collection have sold out to other firms. The most recent sale, which affects parts of Hamline-Midway and Merriam Park, is last month’s sale of Advanced Disposal to Waste Management.
Complaints about the program have dropped, said Swanson. But the number of people not paying their trash bills is still hovering around 11 percent. That’s not changed in recent months. Unpaid bills eventually are added to property tax assessments.
Council members told Public Works staff that while the complaints have dropped, they’re still concerned about incidents of poor customer service. Ward 7 Council Member Jane Prince described a situation in which a customer had to quickly leave town to help an ill family member, and yet couldn’t get ahold of trash collection. The company told the customer that a minimum two weeks’ notice is required for such holds.
Prince also said she continues to be concerned about people on fixed incomes, who struggle to afford even the smallest trash cart and every-other-week service. She said the haulers consortium needs to show “common sense’ in dealing with customers.
Other council members said they, too, continue to hear complaints about poor customer service and missed collections. There have been almost 1,400 complaints, with most focused on billing, late fees, missed pickups and other issues. Legislative hearings on unpaid bills began in April, with many hearings focusing on misdirected or incorrect charges. The first challenges to bills go to the St. Paul City Council for final action in May.
The missed pickups number of 1,676, or .7% seemed low to some council members. But Swanson said that doesn’t include weather-related issues. One related issue the council is looking at is whether the city should take over alley plowing, which would be one way to address the problems on snow-clogged alleys.
Another question council members had was how to measure the success of organization collection, which could be seen as reducing illegal dumping and wear and tear on streets. Swanson said that while the dumping figures can be easily collected, looking at impacts on streets is something that could take years.