Judge orders Mounds View to negotiate in good faith with trash haulers in proposed move to organized collection

Mounds View must pump the breaks on a potential move to city-organized trash collection, continuing negotiations with haulers who now contract directly with residents, a Ramsey County judge ordered Friday.

Two of five haulers licensed to operate in Mounds View — Walters Recycling and Refuse and ACE Solid Waste — requested a temporary restraining order and filed a lawsuit last month against Mounds View, its mayor, council and city administrator. The haulers accuse city officials of breaking state law by rushing negotiations in their efforts explore a change from an open market trash collection system, where residents contract directly with trash haulers, to one where the city coordinates garbage collection.

In Minnesota, switching to organized collection is governed by state statute. The process requires cities to give current haulers a chance to negotiate for a slice of the market under the city-organized contract.

As requested by the haulers, Ramsey County Judge Laura Nelson's order requires negotiations between the city and haulers to continue in good faith despite an end-of-January deadline set by the city.

Mounds View has explored organized collection in the past, and began doing so again last year. City officials have argued that organized collection would reduce wear on the city's roads.

Not everyone is in favor of a switch. Some Mounds View residents collected enough signatures to ask voters if they want to amend the city charter to require voter approval to go to an organized trash collection system. A special election is set for April 9.

After beginning the process of negotiating with haulers in October, the city set a Jan. 11 deadline to reach a contract agreement, later extended to Jan. 31. City officials defended the timeline because of the upcoming special election.

"The timeline in the process has been driven by a goal to get to some sort of a contract well enough in advance of the election so that voters can understand exactly what they're voting on," said attorney Rachel Tierney, who is working with the city negotiating team, at a Jan. 17 meeting.

But haulers accuse Mounds View of violating state statute by rushing the process.

"They imposed a completely unreasonable deadline where they wanted us to submit a proposal and price," Mike Moroz, the CEO and president of Walters Recycling, told the Star Tribune. Negotiating an organized collection contract, which requires competitors to work together, has taken roughly eight months to a year in other cities, he said.

Though Nelson denied some other requests from the haulers, Cassandra Merrick, an attorney representing them, said the haulers are happy with the order overall and that the lawsuit against the city will proceed.

"My clients are pleased with this order and Judge Nelson's recognition of the strength of our arguments that the City has violated the process required by the organized collection statute," Merrick wrote in an email. "The lawsuit to address our concerns about their violation of the statute continues, of course. We hope the City Council pays attention."

In an email, City Administrator Nyle Zikmund said the city declined to comment given the active litigation.