Trash and recycling in Forest Lake will soon be picked up by a new company. In a special meeting July 17, the Forest Lake City Council approved a contract for citywide refuse and recycling hauling with Republic Services, which it selected in a 4-1 vote (Councilman Sam Husnik voted against) over Walters Refuse and Recycling and SRC at its July 8 meeting.
SRC, based in Wyoming, has been the city's garbage hauler since 1985. Its contract was last renewed in 2014 and expires Aug. 3. In May, the city issued a request for proposals (RFP) for refuse and recycling services, to which Republic, SRC and Walters Recycling and Refuse responded.
At the July 8 meeting, City Attorney Bridget Nason explained that details of the company's bids were subject to Minnesota state statute 13.951, which designates data submitted by a business to a government entity in response to an RFP as private. Names of the businesses become public at the time proposals are due but until contract negotiations with the selected vendor are finalized, all other data is considered private and can only be discussed in a public meeting.
Per that statute, information related to service and pricing was only available to councilmembers and city staff. City Administrator Patrick Casey presented the projected annual costs for the first year of service, as proposed by each of the three companies. Republic's services would cost a customer $232.80 annually, compared to $260.04 with Walters and $309.72 with SRC.
Given projected price increases and the current customer base (approximately 4,900 households), Casey estimated that a 5-year contract with Republic would total approximately $5.96 million, compared to approximately $6.66 million with Walters and $7.83 million with SRC.
During the July 8 open forum, several residents spoke in support of SRC. Karen Morehead said she attended the meeting as an advocate for “one of the finest companies that I've ever experienced in the Forest Lake area.” She emphasized SRC's service to the community and the fact that its taxes benefit the Forest Lake school district.
“I think it's imperative that we realize 55 years … They've been picking up trash before some of you, most of you, were born,” she said. “You're looking at taking a company that's been here longer than you and saying for what, a few dollars, maybe, that it's worth it? It's not.”
Leslie Butler, however, raised a concern about the limited recyclable items accepted by SRC. She brought with her several plastic items left behind in her recycling cart, including a number 1 plastic that did not have a small neck, and a yogurt container designated as a number 5.
“This is a problem for me. I care about the environment, and I know that the first plastic bottle that was ever made has not had enough time to decompose yet. I want a place for that plastic to go,” Butler said. “I've called the county. I know I can go to Woodbury and drop off all my plastics 1 through 7 free of charge, but this is a large county, and that's a long way to go. I'm retired, so I can make that drive once a month if I have to, but I know a lot of people can't.”
Recycling was ultimately a deciding factor in the council's selection of a new vendor. Both Republic and Walters accept all plastics, numbers 1 through 7, while SRC accepts only 1 and 2. The broader recycling program, combined with the lower cost to customers, convinced four of the five councilmembers to go with Republic.
Mayor Mara Bain emphasized the growing worldwide plastics problem, which she said Republic and Walters seemed better equipped to handle. “Couple that with the price … It's a tough decision from an organization perspective, but in terms of services provided and what we are trying to achieve in a single collection effort, to me, we've got a clear decision.”
Husnik, who ultimately cast the sole dissenting vote, said that city support for a local business whose tax dollars benefit the community was his motivating factor.
“I might be able to stomach that (the higher cost of SRC) if it were an apples-to-apples service, but it's not an apples-to-apples service,” Bain replied. “We are getting a smaller recycling program for a 33% premium, and that's the dynamic I'm having a tough time reconciling. It's not just price, but it's price per the service.”
The city's contract with Republic was finalized at the July 15 meeting. Republic will begin servicing Forest Lake in August, and its contract will run through December 2024.
Elizabeth Callen is a staff writer and reporter for the Lowdown. She can be reached at 651-407-1229 or firstname.lastname@example.org.