Rochester’s garbage hauling remains on the same path, at least for now.

“It’s a nice idea, but it’s the wrong time,” Rochester City Council Member Mark Bilderback said, summing up the majority opinion of the council in regard to the potential for changing garbage collection practices.

Several council members cited potential benefits to changing to an organized collection model, under which the city would negotiate prices and services, but they also noted residents appear to feel content with the current open system, which puts residents in charge of working directly with the hauler.

A recent survey indicated approximately 95 percent of Rochester residents view their current service favorably, with 43 percent rating it “excellent.”

“That 43 percent is about 10 points above what we see in other communities,” said Peter Leatherman of Minneapolis-based Morris Leatherman Co., which conducted the survey of 400 residents, which had a reported margin of error of approximately five points.

Rochester Mayor Kim Norton, however, noted the results don’t mean service can’t be improved. She said adopting a city-organized service means the city could negotiate established prices, service expectations and additional options, including the use of smaller cans and collection of compostable materials.

“Perspective and reality are somewhat different here,” she said.

Variable rates

A review by city staff shows the four haulers licensed to collect residential trash in the city have a wide range of prices. Recent calls from the 55906 area code put the range at $78 to nearly $112 per three months for a 65-gallon bin collected once a week.

For 95-gallon cans, rates ranged from $83 with Advanced Disposal to nearly $118 with Waste Management.

Council Member Nick Campion pointed out that prices can also fluctuate based on customer negotiations.

“There’s a lot of room for negotiation in these services,” he said, noting it means neighbors can pay drastically different rates for the same service.

Council Member Patrick Keane suggested the ability to negotiate could become more difficult in the future, since Advanced Disposal, which collects 46 percent of the residential garbage in Olmsted County, is being purchased by Waste Management, which handles nearly 42 percent of the county’s residential trash.

“When we get to one provider doing 90 percent of the work, I expect our rates to go up a lot,” he said.

Sunshine Disposal collects just more than 11 percent of residential trash in the county, and Hometown Haulers picks up less than 1 percent.

In the past, some trash haulers have publicly opposed changing the city’s model, but calls for comment Monday failed to solicit strong opinions.

Julie Ketchum, of Waste Management’s public affairs office, said the company has been neutral on the issue of garbage districting for many years, preferring to let communities make their own choices.

“We want to work with our communities,” she said. “We respect the opinions of our customers as well.”

Representatives for Sunshine Disposal and Hometown Haulers didn’t return calls with comment.

An existing agreement between Olmsted County and local trash haulers means no new licenses can be issued until July 1, 2022, under the current system.

Campion said documenting the current rates means the council can revisit the issue in a year or two in order to see if perspectives change..

POTENTIAL FOR DISCUSSION

Keane said the timing could also give city staff more time to educate residents regarding potential benefits of an organized garbage system.

Council Member Michael Wojcik said he’s seen increased education sway opinions in one-one-one conversations.

“I’ve had a lot of conversations to people who are vehemently opposed to this hauling until they actually get what the facts are,” he said, citing the city’s potential for competitive bidding to lower prices.

He said a contract with providers could also establish performance standards while reducing pollution and costs for street repairs.

He said efforts to increase community awareness of the issues could provide a more favorable view for looking at options.

Council Member Shaun Palmer said he believes residents’ views were made clear in the recent survey. He said he opposed the $10,000 expense when it was approved, but it helps support his stance against changing garbage-hauling practices,

“I’m not in favor of continuing this conversation,” he said.

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