Some Anoka residents are calling for a referendum on whether the city should return to organized garbage collection, and at least one City Council member appeared to support the idea last week.
Just over a dozen speakers addressed the topic of organized hauling during the council’s regular open forum Monday, Feb. 3, after a printed piece from Garbage Haulers for Citizen Choice urged residents to show up and speak against the proposal.
About three-quarters of the residents who spoke Feb. 3 opposed organized collection, including some who previously voiced opposition at a Jan. 23 public meeting at Green Haven Golf Course. Reactions online and in other communication with the City Council have been mixed.
Dave Wiggins, division vice president for Ace Solid Waste, told the City Council Feb. 3 it was relying on faulty data in concluding that garbage trucks contribute significantly to street deterioration. Ace is one of the six residential haulers that operates in the city and is listed as one of the companies participating in Garbage Haulers for Citizen Choice.
Wiggins said the city’s claim in its Jan. 23 presentation that a garbage truck causes damage similar to almost 1,300 passenger cars was based on a misapplication of the study it cited.
Wiggins also said the estimates of garbage truck weights given by city staff at previous council meetings were exaggerations. Wiggins said he looked up the residential trucks Ace used in the city of Anoka in the third week of January 2020 and found the lightest truck fully loaded weighed 44,000 pounds, and the heaviest was 46,000 pounds. He added that the trucks have four axles and use the widest tires possible to distribute the weight.
By his calculations, Wiggins said, his garbage trucks exert less pressure per square inch than a fully loaded school bus, yet “I’m the one getting my business threatened.”
A few city residents also questioned the data presented by the city, and several said it wasn’t the city’s place to dictate who hauls trash.
“I’m a free market guy,” said resident Charlie Muellner, who said he’s happier with the hauler he selected in Anoka than he was with the city-selected hauler when he lived in Blaine.
A handful of residents spoke in support of returning to a single hauler, including Barb Thurston, who said she opposed the idea five years ago but changed her mind in part because she received a special assessment of more than $7,000 when her street was reconstructed. She wants to protect that investment.
More than one person referenced St. Paul’s much-publicized fight over organized collection as an argument against organization, but Mayor Phil Rice said St. Paul got in trouble because it didn’t follow the correct process.
St. Paul’s battle over organized hauling went all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court because the city refused to conduct a referendum, even though voters collected enough signatures. The courts said the question had to go to a vote in accordance with the St. Paul City Charter.
When St. Paul voters faced the question in last fall, 63% supported organized hauling.
At Anoka’s Feb. 3 council meeting, some residents called for the question of organized collection to go before Anoka voters directly.
“We want to be able to vote on this,” Kevin Landry said. “You guys should not be making this decision for us.”
Council Member Mark Freeburg said it’s clear heavy vehicles can damage roads, or there would be no need for seasonal weight restrictions. But he said it isn’t worth getting in a fight over.
“If we could get organized and do a referendum and let you folks decide how you want to run your town, have at it,” he said. “I don’t want to get in an argument with you guys. It’s not worth it. It’s your town, and I’ll do what you want.”
Council Member Elizabeth Barnett asked City Attorney Scott Baumgartner to outline the procedure residents can use to trigger a citywide vote.
Baumgartner said the Anoka City Charter outlines two procedures for citizens to call for a citywide vote on an ordinance.
The first is called an “initiative,” which is when a group of residents calls for the council to either approve an ordinance or bring it to a citywide vote. An initiative requires signatures from registered voters equal to at least 10% of the number of registered voters at the time of the last regular municipal election.
The second procedure is called a referendum, and it’s a means by which voters can block an ordinance approved by the City Council. It requires signatures from registered voters equal to at least 3% of the number of registered voters at the time of the last regular municipal election. Then the council must either repeal the ordinance or put the question to voters.
The City Charter, which details both processes, is available at the city’s website, ci.anoka.mn.us.
For now, city staff will compile resident feedback and present it to the council at a work session at 5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24.