John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Friday, April 29, 2011

2011 Spring Clean-up Tomorrow

Tomorrow, April 30th, is spring clean-up day in Maplewood, at the Aldrich Arena (1850 White Bear Ave.) from 8 AM to 1 PM.

Details are available on the city website.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Council Presentation on Trash Bills

As a result of our ongoing discussion of trash collection in Maplewood, some residents have been taking a closer look at their current hauling bills and finding some unexpected things.

At our April 25th city council meeting, I gave a Council Presentation on the topic. Here it is on YouTube:

Since it's hard to read the documents on video (especially the bills), I have uploaded a single PDF containing the items I was showing on the overhead.

As I state at the end of the presentation, I'm looking for more copies of actual Maplewood trash bills to analyze.  If you're willing and able to get a digital image of one a scanner or camera (I've found that my smartphone's camera can take a legible digital photo of a bill if there's decent sunlight), please e-mail it to me at my city address.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Insurance Returning to Normal

One of the reasons I ran for the Maplewood City Council four years ago was the blinkered incompetence of the previous city council majority and the utterly unqualified crony that they installed as city manager, with whose assistance they turned city government into a vehicle for pursuing their own personal vendettas.  This cost taxpayers dearly, as a series of illegal firings racked up big legal expenses, out-of-court settlements, and court judgements.  Much of the actual dollars were paid by our insurer, the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust -- which means that taxpayers all over the state picked up the tab for the old regime's malice and incompetence.

It was not without consequences for Maplewood, however.  We came close to losing our coverage, and our insurance policy was renewed only with special conditions setting a much higher deductible than usual.  Last year we saw our deductible lowered, in recognition of the city's return to responsible governance.  The latest good news on tonight's agenda is that this year we are looking at another improvement, which should return us to the state of insurance normalcy we enjoyed before our former mayor and her pals took over city hall.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Council Goals in the Maplewood Review

Last week's Maplewood Review included an article about the city council's goals, which we set at our annual retreat back in February and formally approved at a recent city council meeting.

The goals will also be the official topic of the upcoming quarterly Citizens Forum town hall meeting, which I will co-host with Mayor Rossbach on May 7th.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Fallen Officer Memorial Fundraiser Today

Just a quick reminder: The Police memorial fundraiser is today, from 2 PM to 10 PM.  See the details on the city website, and please attend.  If you can't make it today, do note that there's a "donate online" button on that page.

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Trash Overbilling

A resident recently wrote to the City Council, on the topic of trash hauling (I'm removing personal information and specific names):
You made the correct move to continue this investigation. Having just written my [hauler] payment this morning, I was surprised to see and hear the rates of some of the local haulers, and my own via the City web site. I guess I am like Will, I didn't care or pay much attention to the money as long as the trash keeps going away each week. I will be investigating my own billing asap, since it just went over $50 a month (all charges).
The resident later wrote to us again, with the information he obtained from calling his hauler.
Some follow up on my call to [hauler] about my billing. First Monica offered the explanation that they have yearly increases. When I sited the $17.00 monthly charge listed on the Maplewood website, she insisted that was incorrect information. So I asked how my bill comes up to $56.20 just for the 96 gal. bucket. She said that's a quarterly bill, but I corrected her that I'm billed bi-monthly. She said 95% of their customers are quarterly. She offered to "work with me" but did not offer any refund or reductions.

FYI my bi-monthly bill charges: 96 gal tote-$56.20; fuel/environmental charge-$14.05; Admin fee-$3.00; Mn solid waste tax-$7.14; County environmental charge- $20.51; Total-$100.90
OK, I get the base rate, even if this resident is being charged $56.20 rather than the $34 per two months that the hauler reports to the city.  The MN tax is supposed to be 9.75%, and the CEC in Ramsey County on residential trash hauling is 28%.  I don't know how those "fuel/environmental" and "Admin" charges are justified -- but I can see that they are being taxed just like the supposed base rate.  9.75% x ($56.20 + $14.05 + $3) = $7.14, the MN solid waste tax figure; likewise, multiply their total by 28% and you get the CEC figure.  So whatever gimmicks the hauler may use to confuse the issue for the customer on the bill, they're reporting all those charges together as the trash hauling charge on which they pay the state and county tax.

If this hauler reports to the city that their rate for a 90-gallon container is $17, then it seems to me that the resident should be paying $17 plus 37.5% state/county tax, multiplied by two months = $46.75.  If he's actually being billed $100.90, that sure looks to me like he's being overbilled by 116% .. roughly $325 per year.

We're not even talking about how he would pay less in an organized hauling city.  Just the difference between what the hauler reports to the city, and what they actually charge this customer.  I wonder how many other Maplewood residents are being been ripped off this way?  (I've verified that another Maplewood resident has found the very same issue, being charged a base rate 72% higher than the number reported to the city per our ordinance, with their bill from a different hauler.)

If all the sound and fury of the organized collection process only results in a lot of residents taking a close look at their bills and asking these questions, and demanding that haulers simply match the rates they themselves report to the city per our ordinance, the savings may add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in our community.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Variance Repair Moving Ahead

The latest word from the legislature is that the much-needed repair to municipal variance authority, after being held up by roadblocks from some business groups, is moving ahead with compromise language that meets the needs of cities and counties. As I wrote last year, a Minnesota Supreme Court decision (Krummenacher v. City of Minnetonka) overturned the long-established standard of review for variances, based on differences between the language of statutes for variances from cities and counties, and reduced the ability of cities to grant variances near to zero.

The League of Minnesota Cities reports that bills may be passed on both House and Senate floors on April 26th.  Whenever it's passed by both houses, it then goes to the Governor, and goes into effect the next business day after it received his signature.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Property Tax Fairness

The Municipal Legislative Commission (of which Maplewood is a member) has launched a website,, as part of a campaign to build awareness of the disparity in property taxes between homeowners in the Metro area and outstate Minnesota.  Citing a report from the Minnesota Department of Revenue, the press release announcing the website notes that "Twin Cities metro area homeowners paid a 39% higher share of their income to property taxes than their Greater Minnesota counterparts. This is a comparison of homeowners that have the same income whether they live in the metro area or Greater Minnesota."

With big changes being contemplated to the state programs and formulas affecting local government finance (such as Market Value Homestead Credit and Local Government Aid), the MLC hopes that the end result will be a system that is more equitable in distributing the burden of property taxes across the state.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

YPR and the Memorial

With the police memorial fundraiser coming up this Saturday, it seems like a good time to link to the April episode of Your Police Report, which is produced by the Maplewood Police Department and GTN.  As the GTN website synopsizes this episode: "Your Police Report travels to Litchfield, Minnesota, to Brodin Studios. Brodin Studios is where the memorial to Sgt. Bergeron will be created. Retired officer Steve Heinz also talks about the upcoming benefit for Sgt. Bergeron and the upcoming National Law Enforcement Memorial."

Be sure to come out on Saturday to the memorial fundraiser at the Maplewood Community Center.  You can buy raffle tickets for valuable prizes, and there will also be a silent auction, among other things!

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dining to Donate at Applebee's

From tomorrow (April 18th) through April 29th, you can help contribute to the cost of building the Maplewood Police Fallen Officer Memorial by dining at Applebee's in Roseville. Applebee's will donate 15% of your bill to the memorial, but you need to bring them a flyer that you can get at City Hall. The flyers were placed at the reception desk, motor vehicle counter, and on the lobby table.

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Friday, April 08, 2011

Maplewood Review Covers Trash Hearing

This week's Maplewood Review features an article about the March 28th public hearing about the resolution of intent to organize trash collection.

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Rate Comparisons: Graphs

My last entry, comparing the rates of various organized collection cities with those reported by Maplewood's haulers, was pretty heavy on the numbers.  I found it helpful to graph the data, to get a better handle on what it means.

I made one graph for each typical container size (approximately 30, 60 and 90 gallons).  Red bars represent the licensed residential haulers in Maplewood and the rates they report to the city, with the dark red bar representing the average of these haulers' rates.  Green bars represent the rates of cities with organized trash hauling, and again the dark green bar represents the average of the organized cities.

Here's the graph comparing rates for the 90-gallon class container (click on any of these graphs to open a larger version).

As you can see, while the average organized rate is lower than the average Maplewood rate, there are individual examples where organized cities have higher rates than some or many of Maplewood's haulers.  I suspect that these cases reflect instances where cities have chosen to increase the difference between rates, in order to financially reward waste reduction.

When you get to the medium-sized containers, a single Maplewood hauler has a lower rate than only one of the organized collection cities.

And finally, when it comes to the smallest container size, every single organized collection city has a rate lower than even the lowest of Maplewood's haulers.

If Maplewood can achieve pricing through organized collection that is merely average in each service level, we would provide residents with lower hauling rates than are currently offered by any of Maplewood's licensed haulers.


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Rate Comparisons: The Numbers

Our February 7th workshop packet (pages 13-15) includes information on the rates in numerous metro cities with organized collection. Prior to last Monday's meeting, I did some number crunching to better understand the data.

It is surprisingly difficult to compare trash hauling rates in different cities. Container sizes vary, though they do fall into basic ranges; sometimes added services (bulky items, yard waste) are included in the base rate, sometimes they cost extra. Some organized collection cities break out recycling as a separate charge; others have a single rate for recycling plus trash. And then there's taxes -- in addition to the state tax of 9.75%, counties may have a solid waste tax. This County Environmental Charge (CEC) is 28% here in Ramsey County, but 9% in Hennepin County and 37.5% in Washington County.

The recycling charge is particularly vexing, because we have organized recycling collection and, at $2.22 per month, our residents pay one of the lowest charges I've seen. This makes it a dubious comparison to add our organized recycling charge to Maplewood trash open hauling rates, since effectively you are crediting the haulers with the cost savings of our existing organized system. I suppose another alternative would be to figure out an average recycling rate among the cities where it is itemized, and subtract it from the organized city rates that combine trash and recycling. However you slice it, though, you're ending up with flawed comparisons. At best, you can say it tells you the difference in what you would pay if you moved from Maplewood to one of these cities; it is more limited in telling you what you might pay if Maplewood went to organized trash hauling in addition to our organized recycling that is already in place.

With that in mind, here are tables comparing Maplewood hauler rates plus our organized recycling collection charge to the rates of organized cities with a combined trash + recycling rate. Taxes and surcharges (such as the fuel surcharges often added by Maplewood haulers) are excluded in all cases.

Maplewood Haulers Plus $2.22/month for recycling

30-38 Gallons 60-68 Gallons 90-98 Gallons
Allied Waste Services (BFI) $16.97 $17.22 $18.22
Gene’s Disposal Service $14.53 $16.07 $17.61
Highland Sanitation $15.22 $17.22 $19.22
Maroney’s Sanitation, Inc. $17.85 $22.51 $23.75
Tennis Sanitation, LLC $14.27 $15.27 $17.27
Veolia Environmental Services $14.47 $16.47 $18.47
Waste Management of Minnesota $17.22 $18.22 $19.22
Walters Recycling & Transfer Station $18.22 $19.22 $20.22
Maplewood Average Rate $16.09 $17.78 $19.25

Organized Cities With Prices for Trash & Recycling Combined
Little Canada $13.14 $15.23 $18.16
White Bear Lake $9.25 $13.60 $18.50
Ham Lake $10.14 $15.02 $17.32
Champlin $13.98 $17.41 $20.85
Robbinsdale $18.17 $20.61 $23.20
Saint Louis Park $13.23 $16.83 $20.42
Organized City Average $12.99 $16.45 $19.74

Average Difference 24% 8% -3%
Difference Between Lowest Rates 54% 12% 0%

Again, keep in mind that this effectively assumes that the recycling charge included in those organized rates is the same as Maplewood's $2.22 per month, one of the lowest rates in the metro. (The range I've seen is from $2.20 to $5.13 per month.) Some of the base rates also include add-on services (Little Canada's price, for example, includes three bulky items per year and a holiday tree; Robbinsdale and Saint Louis Park rates include yard waste pick-up). Even so hobbled, these organized collection cities' rates compare favorably with Maplewood's haulers today.

In some cases we can get closer to "apples to apples," when we can identify organized collection rates that exclude any recycling charge.

Here are the basic rates of Maplewood haulers, again without taxes or surcharges:

30-38 Gallons 60-68 Gallons 90-98 Gallons
Allied Waste Services (BFI) $14.75 $15.00 $16.00
Gene’s Disposal Service $12.31 $13.85 $15.39
Highland Sanitation $13.00 $15.00 $17.00
Maroney’s Sanitation, Inc. $15.63 $20.29 $21.53
Tennis Sanitation, LLC $12.05 $13.05 $15.05
Veolia Environmental Services $12.25 $14.25 $16.25
Waste Management of Minnesota $15.00 $16.00 $17.00
Walters Recycling & Transfer Station $16.00 $17.00 $18.00
Maplewood Average Rate $13.87 $15.56 $17.03

And here are the rates of organized Metro cities who have a price for trash service alone:

Blaine $8.15 $11.65 $13.65
Circle Pines $9.05 $12.70 $17.65
Columbia Heights $11.25 $11.78 $14.69
Medina $10.35 $13.45 $15.55
North Saint Paul $11.67 $12.81 $15.00
Shakopee $8.32 $10.35 $11.97
Stillwater $8.57 $10.84 $13.33
Vadnais Heights $9.35 $11.48 $14.44
Watertown $6.66 $9.32 $11.69
Wayzata $7.49 $12.55 $17.39
White Bear Township $9.79 $10.79 $12.81
Organized City Average $9.15 $11.61 $14.38

So, how much more do we pay than the residents of these organized cities, where we have closer to apples-to-apples comparisons?  Here are three ways to look at it:

Average Difference 52% 34% 18%
Difference Between Lowest Rates 81% 40% 29%
Average Organized vs. Best Maplewood 32% 12% 5%

It is interesting that the average difference pretty well matches the 20%-to-50%-more figures that the 2009 MPCA study found in their comparison of average rates between open versus organized cities.

A final comment: The Maplewood rates are the numbers reported to the city by the haulers, as required by ordinance. Some residents may have negotiated lower rates. For example, one resident told me he checks the rates each year, calls his hauler, and asks them to match the lowest rate.  On the other hand, another resident told me he was upset to discover that his hauler had been slowly raising his rates over time, so that he was paying a great deal more than the rate reported to the city.  Unless the haulers open their books, and give us detailed information on the actual rates paid by residents (something they are unlikely to do, based on their responses to past requests for such information), I'm not sure we can do better than to rely on the rates reported to the city.


Friday, April 01, 2011

The April 1st Holiday

Another April 1st has arrived, and I see there's a new issue of the LOLlie News.  Apparently this year they've been reduced to fart jokes.

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