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Column: Saving money and improving the environment

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opinion Worthington,Minnesota 56187
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Column: Saving money and improving the environment
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187


ROSEVILLE — In Sauk Rapids and Minneapolis and many other communities, weekly garbage collection means a single garbage truck goes down every residential street to pick up garbage. In contrast, other Minnesota communities have four or five different garbage trucks going down every residential street or alley to pick up the trash.

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Sending several heavy trucks down a street to do what one can do makes little sense. It costs consumers more, wastes fuel and multiplies the damage that heavy trucks do to light residential roads.

Having multiple trucks is also less safe. A hauler who stops at only one or two houses per block accelerates more, often speeding down the street to complete their routes faster. A garbage truck stopping at every house doesn’t pick up much speed between stops.

In my Roseville neighborhood there are no sidewalks, so children walk and wait for the school bus on the street. The three or four heavy garbage trucks speeding past each week multiplies the potential that a child will be hit.

Previously, cities hoping to eliminate this redundancy by organizing collection with only one truck on a street faced powerful opposition. Garbage haulers were afraid they would lose business under a competitive bidding process. They used political clout and lobbied, many years ago, for a state law making it almost impossible for cities to organize garbage collection. Since 1991, no city had successfully done so until Maplewood in 2011, and Sauk Rapids, early this year.

But after years of virtual warfare over the issue, we were able to pass a new state law making it possible for cities to make a thoughtful, rational decision. The new law (Senate File 510) passed the Senate unanimously! The change occurred in part because of the big savings seen in Maplewood and Sauk Rapids when they updated their collection system.

In writing the legislation, we reached out to the businesses and worked to create a process that is fair to all, including the local, independent haulers. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) joined the League of Minnesota Cities in supporting this because it allows small companies to protect their interests while enabling cities to serve the interests of their residents.

Under the law, cities can work cooperatively with existing haulers. They would divide the city into zones, with each hauler retaining their share of the market, but servicing a discrete region. This saves the haulers time and expense and significantly reduces rates for homeowners. If the cooperative negotiations are unsuccessful, the city will have the chance to study all other options.

In the contentious past, mere mention of the issue in a city meant haulers would scare their customers about possible higher costs. At election time, the haulers had a political PAC that spent large amounts of campaign money to elect favorable city council candidates.

In Sauk Rapids, a community of 13,000 people in central Minnesota, waste haulers attempted to block change by helping elect some sympathetic new members of the council last November. However, after the new council members saw the savings from organized collection, they changed their minds and approved the contract. They recognized that their constituents would save a lot of money, using their personal experience as examples. One council member said his family will be saving $256 per year. Another said his bills will drop from $30 to only $12 per month.

In Maplewood, residents have had their garbage bills cut in half. And city streets face significantly less wear and tear.

Under the new law, cities will have the opportunity to work cooperatively with haulers, letting haulers keep their share of the market instead of selecting only one company as in Maplewood and Sauk Rapids, but they will still see the savings from organized collection.

As cities examine their options, some residents will vehemently argue against change. They say they want to select their own hauler.

But most people, when they learn that their city can negotiate 50 percent savings for them and simultaneously reduce the noise and traffic on their streets, strongly prefer that. It may take several years for cities to move ahead, but this law will allow change to occur.

In the divisive political climate in our country, where even minor issues are becoming increasingly partisan and contentious, it is nice to see a case where people could come together and agree on change that will preserve small businesses, protect the environment and save money for residents. That’s worth celebrating.