After rounds of missed or delayed trash pick-ups since December – and subsequent resident complaints – the city of Scandia is trying to seek solutions, including possibly pursuing another company’s service, if negotiations with its current hauler, Waste Management, Inc. cannot be agreed upon.
On Wednesday, Feb. 1, the Scandia City Council approved city staff to begin negotiating with Waste Management Inc. in mid-March following the issues with the hauler.
Following the merger of the only two waste removal companies that serviced Scandia, residents expressed frustrations about the efficacy of Waste Management’s service enough that it prompted the city to seek out other services. By state law, cities are required to enter a 60-day period of negotiations with existing haulers before they are allowed to seek alternative options. That binds Scandia into negotiations with Waste Management, Inc. until Sunday, April 9.
“This is something that all of us deal with in our daily lives, every week,” said Anne Hurlburt, the city’s interim city administrator.
When SRC, Inc. and Waste Management, Inc. were both operating in Scandia, it was an “open market” that allowed each resident to choose which company they wanted to remove their trash. However, following the merger of the two companies, Scandia legally has to explore an “organized market” in which the city could potentially create a contract with one waste management collector to cover all residents. That would give the city some oversight over rates and service standards.
If Scandia can’t agree on terms with Waste Management, Inc., it would form a committee made up of city staff and residents to oversee new bids for trash hauling companies.
“All of this takes a long time,” Hurlburt explained.
Hurlburt, along with council members Mike Lubke and Heather Benson, are working with Waste Management this week on those negotiations for the city. Hurlburt said points they will raise include questions about the company’s customer service, rates, disposal services of “problem” garbage, and insurance for property damage.
They will share the highlights from this initial negotiation meeting with the Scandia City Council either at the end of March or more likely, according to Hurlburt, at the early-April meeting. She said it’ll be listed as an agenda item for the public to be aware of.
Throughout the past few months, residents have posted on social media pages about gaps in their trash removal services with Waste Management, which allegedly often skipped pickups or rescheduled service days.
“There were some little bumps in the road with Waste Management taking over the service; we had folks with missed pickups, their billing format changed which caused some confusion, [and] the weather this winter has not helped this situation,” Hurlburt said. The weather, the company said, was the biggest issue.
“Extraordinary winter weather has created service issues for Waste Management in various parts of the state, including Scandia. However, Waste Management made every effort in the Scandia area to provide collection, including using a non-standard pickup truck to provide service,” said Julie Ketchum, local Waste Management public affairs representative.
Ketchum added that of the 17 SRC employees, 16 remained with Waste Management through this transition and still cover their same routes, although it is exploring rerouting some of those routes to increase efficiency, which is expected to result in changing collection schedules for Scandia residents. Those changes to routes will be communicated via postcard from Waste Management and won’t impact every Scandia resident.
Following complaints during the winter, Hurlburt explained that city staff reached out to other waste removal companies who operate in neighboring Chisago County cities to see if they would service Scandia, too. The responses were more involved than Hurlburt initially thought, she said because establishing a new route is time-consuming and all of Scandia’s trash needs to be hauled to the Ramsey/Washington Recycling and Energy center in Newport, while Chisago County’s trash is hauled elsewhere.
“If there’s a company who is not hauling to Newport, and doesn’t want to haul to Newport, they’re not going to come into Scandia from other counties. … There’s some barriers there to coming into our market because of the cost,” Hurlburt said.
She added as the city has been navigating this trash removal licensing and agreements with Waste Management, it has been helpful to see public comments in real time on social media.
“We’ve learned about how pervasive the issue is and what people care about,” Hurlburt said.
For resident Ann Rinkenberger, an SRC user at the time of the merger, this transition was less than ideal since she had recently opted to change waste haulers from Waste Management to SRC. Waste Management once hadn’t picked up her trash for a stretch of three weeks, she said. When Waste Management missed a pickup, she’d fill a tin trash can with the overflow until their primary one was emptied, which was immediately filled halfway due to the overflow for the upcoming pickup.
Rinkenberger did say within the past few weeks the garbage pickup by Waste Management was only late one of the weeks but an on-time pick up garners the reaction, “That was a pleasant surprise!”
As the city negotiates with Waste Management and other companies potentially in the future, her primary desire from a trash removal company is consistency in service.
The city is accepting applications online at tinyurl.com/ycyfbe9k from residents who are interested in having a seat on the waste and recycling committee if an agreement with Waste Management is not met by Sunday, April 9.
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