The trash talk has begun.
The city of Anoka is asking residents to weigh in on the idea of organizing garbage collection and transitioning to a single-hauler system. So far the responses have been mixed.
About 40 people attended a public meeting at Green Haven Golf course Thursday, Jan. 23, to hear a presentation from the city, ask questions and provide feedback. City Council members have also received calls after an organization called Garbage Haulers for Citizen Choice sent out a mailer and posted information online attacking the city’s process.
For most of its history, Anoka had a single hauler. It changed to an open system in 1991. The city looked at the idea of returning to a single hauler about five years ago and received vocal opposition from some community members. The City Council decided to limit the number of haulers through attrition as existing haulers shut down or were bought out.
Currently six residential and two commercial haulers operate in Anoka.
As the city spends millions of dollars each year on street reconstruction, the council is revisiting the idea of organized hauling, primarily as a means of protecting its roads. City Manager Greg Lee said he has become more confident that the load on the city’s streets is a significant factor in road deterioration.
If the city decides to make the switch, state law dictates the transition process. The haulers currently operating in the city would come up with a proposal to divide up the city based on current market shares for seven years. That means only one hauler would operate in each area of the city during that time, but different areas would have different haulers. After the seven-year transition period, the city would go out for competitive bids to determine which hauler would continue to serve the city.
Most people who explicitly voiced an opinion at the Jan. 23 meeting said they were against organized hauling, but many residents had questions about logistics.
Top concerns expressed by residents included loss of individual choice, too much government involvement, worries about quality of service and cost.
“I’m not anti-government, I just think they have better things to do than worry about my trash hauling,” said Jackie Hanna, of Anoka.
Anoka resident Barbara Baldwin said she put up with organized hauling in Anaheim, California, for years and received terrible service. Because the hauler has a contract with the city, not individuals, “you get treated like trash,” she said. She strongly opposed a single-hauler system.
Rich Rydberg, another resident against organized hauling, said he was concerned about how the city is approaching the decision-making process. He felt it has been less transparent than when the council considered the question five years ago.
Rydberg said he listened to an October work session where the council discussed the issue and came away with the impression that some of the council members had already made up their minds and simply wanted to “educate” the public to agree with their view.
Mayor Phil Rice has said publicly he thinks a single-hauler system is a good idea in order to protect the city’s streets and that he thinks it’s a matter of when, not if, the city will make the change.
Rydberg also questioned whether moving to a single-hauler system will successfully protect the roads.
“There are certainly other studies out there,” he said, citing a Moore Engineering study prepared for Ace Solid Waste that didn’t find a definitive correlation between the type of garbage collection system and the cost per mile to maintain streets.
Not all the feedback at the forum was negative. Anoka resident Pete DeLong said he thinks there will be more administrative costs than the city anticipates, but he would still support a single-hauler system to protect the city’s investment in its streets. Others present mentioned environmental benefits of organized hauling.
Online comments have also indicated a mix of support and opposition to the idea.
The slideshow and full video of the city’s presentation and question-and-answer session are available through the city’s website, ci.anoka.mn.us, along with feedback forms. The deadline to turn in feedback forms is Monday, Feb. 10.
City staff will compile the information for the council to review at a work session Monday, Feb. 24.
After the meeting
Since the public meeting, the garbage haulers have begun weighing in on the discussion.
Christopher DeLaForest, a lobbyist representing Ace, attended the meeting and reached out to ABC Newspapers afterward.
“I am deeply concerned, and so is Ace, by the process that has been undertaken here by the city,” he said.
He called the city’s process “opaque” and “secretive,” and echoed the concern that some council members seem to have made up their minds.
“The city never reached out to us (the haulers),” he said, adding that he thought the issue was resolved after the discussion five years ago and was surprised it came up again.
DeLaForest also said organized hauling isn’t always as good as it sounds.
“In my experience in 20 years or so of being around this issue, a lot of times the benefits promised around organized collection just don’t materialize,” DeLaForest said. He added that he hasn’t been able to find a city in Minnesota that has been able to demonstrate a clear overall savings by moving to organized hauling. “Those performance metrics just don’t exist,” he said.
Garbage Haulers for Citizen Choice has also become actively involved in the conversation, sending out a mailer asking residents to speak out during the regular open forum time at the Feb. 3 City Council meeting. Online the organization cited statements by Mayor Rice and Council Member Erik Skogquist and claimed they had already made up their minds.
Skogquist said his quotes were taken out of context and that he didn’t make up his mind in advance. He said his comments about getting the process moving meant he wanted the city to move toward making a decision one way or the other in a timely manner.
“I didn’t want to go another two years before we decided which direction we were going to go,” Skogquist said.
He added that the public meeting was only the start of the process and the time to engage garbage haulers would come.
Skogquist also said he’d heard from almost 30 people since the public meeting and about three-quarters supported a single-hauler system.
Rice said the process has been transparent and that the city is only at the beginning of a lengthy process. He said the topic was only discussed at open meetings and that the council has mentioned the idea of organized hauling multiple times in the past few years when considering street renewal projects.
“I think it would be irresponsible not to consider measures to protect our investment in roadways,” he said.
Rice said the reaction from the public so far has been mixed. One community member emailed the city to oppose organized hauling, but after speaking with a council member the resident changed their mind and sent a second email supporting the idea.
Rice said there is much discussion yet to come.
“Keep an open mind,” he said. “Listen to the arguments, and draw your own conclusion.”