Recycling ordinance pushback prompts review

Contributing Writer

Push back from some multi-unit housing property owners and managers prompted the Coon Rapids City Council to review at a work session Aug. 22 the new recycling ordinance that it adopted July 5.

The ordinance, which was scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1, requires all multi-unit buildings with centralized trash and recycling collection to provide at least weekly recycling collection and a one-to-one ratio of trash and recycling containers on the property.

According to Colleen Sinclair, city recycling coordinator, the ordinance was a culmination of the city’s multi-unit recycling program which began two years ago as a way to help multi-unit residents increase their ability to recycle.

During that time, a great deal of educational information was provided to the properties affected and pilot projects were implemented with interested property owners, Sinclair told the council.

“The results of the pilots showed increased recycling and lower waste rates, and typically resulted in reduced trash collection costs,” she said.

But since adoption of the ordinance, council members have been contacted with complaints about the changes and staff sought direction from the council on revisiting the ordinance, according to Sinclair.

The consensus of the council members present – Council Member Wade Demmer was not at the meeting – was not to make any changes to the ordinance, but continue staff’s efforts to bring the multi-unit housing properties into compliance and hold off any enforcement of the ordinance provisions until the new year.

Staff has been in contact with all the multi-unit property managers or owners as well as the city’s multi-unit housing coalition and the Minnesota Multi-Unit Housing Association to get their input on specific concerns, Sinclair said.

In addition, staff recently hosted two meetings with impacted property owners or managers invited, she said.

“While attendance was low, the discussions at those meetings were primarily positive…,” Sinclair said.

Of the 57 multi-unit properties impacted by the ordinance, 18 have not responded to any of the city’s contact efforts, but 39 are working with the city and nine of those have the one-to-once ratio in place, according to Sinclair.

“Staff is more than willing to work directly with concerned property owners or managers to address their issues, but to date no specific items have been identified that can’t be, or have not been, resolved in similar situations on participating properties,” Sinclair said.

Sinclair proposed implementing “flexible enforcement” of the ordinance revisions as long as steps are taken by the property owners to comply, she said.

“The recycling ordinance is the right thing to do and we should keep going,” said Council Member Jennifer Geisler.

But while Mayor Jerry Koch said the ordinance might the right thing to do, it was too early.

According to Koch, he had voted for the ordinance July 5 because he was told that properties would be able to come into compliance, but that’s not the case.

“They are not close at all with only a handful ready to go,” Koch said.

In fact, one of the property owners Koch had talked with told him he would rather pay the fine than come into compliance, he said.

“I want to rescind the ordinance,” Koch said. “This is government overreach.”

While encouraging the properties to implement the recycling provisions right away, Geisler said she was willing to give them time to do so, suggesting three months.

City Manager Matt Stemwedel proposed delaying enforcement of the ordinance and coming back to the council before the end of the year with a progress report on implementation.

“Let’s play this out a little bit to get a better sense of where we are,” he said.

Council Member Steve Wells said he was willing to give the property owners time to comply with the ordinance, so was Council Member Brad Johnson.

“Give them to the first of the year,” Johnson said.

Council Members Bill Kiecker and Brad Greskowiak, who both attended one of the staff meetings with multi-unit property owners and managers, agreed.

According to Kiecker, the meeting he attended was positive. “We need to be flexible and work with the property owners,” he said.

With flexibility built in and “encouragement not a hammer,” this can be a successful program, Greskowiak said.