City will put a request for proposals together to gauge private sector interest.

Would you be willing to possibly pay a bit more or possibly a significant amount more to a private business for garbage and recycling services that don’t utilize bags that you need to purchase, but, instead, a big cart that you roll to your curbside to be picked up by a truck equipped with a large robotic arm?

That might be the direction the City of Crookston is heading, after the city council this week gave City Administrator Shannon Stassen and Public Works Director Pat Kelly the go-ahead to put a request-for-proposals (RFP) together to advertise to private sanitation and recycling firms that might be interested in handling the services in Crookston.

Kelly and Stassen said that, with a couple of longtime Public Works employees either retiring or poised to retire soon, the timing is right to explore the possibility of outsourcing garbage and recycling services.

“At least as long as I’ve been here, this comes up frequently,” Stassen said. “People would like to see rolling carts; there are lots of topics around our garbage and recycling services, and we talk about it every year.”

And every year, the subject doesn’t advance past the talking stage, he continued, because the “huge capital expense” to launch a modified City-run service that would involve rolling carts and a more technologically advanced garbage truck.

Stassen said he’s done some checking around, and there is interest in the private sector of taking over garbage and recycling services.

But what would become of the two clean-up weeks in the spring and fall? They’ll be included in the RFP, Stassen said, but it could end up being that only Crookston residents who become customers of a private firm would be able to participate in the clean-up weeks. Ward 2 Council Member Steve Erickson didn’t like the sound of that, and said that the clean-up weeks – even if they end up being reduced to only one per year – are important enough to find a way to provide the service to the entire community even if a private firm is providing garbage and recycling pick-up.

“You can’t have something that half the people get and half don’t,” Erickson said. “That’s not going to work; we’ve had clean-up weeks for everyone for umpteen years.”

The City is not committed to anything by simply disseminating an RFP, Stassen said. The council has the option of rejecting all of the proposals and continuing to provide garbage and recycling pick-up. If that ends up being the case, Stassen and Kelly said a rate increase is overdue. The prices for a City yellow bag ($1.10) and a City orange bag (55 cents) haven’t increased said the bags were introduced in 1998. Currently, the City’s garbage and recycling program runs an annual deficit of around $50,000, Stassen noted. 

Currently, while no Crookston property owner is required to purchase City bags and participate in the City’s garbage and recycling program, everyone’s water bill includes a $5 fee for such services. (In order to erase the deficit, Weasner estimates the fee would have to be increased to $7 or maybe $8.) The monthly fee would go away in the event a private firm takes over the job. With the City bag program not popular with a lot of residents, many haul their garbage, free of charge, to the Polk County Transfer Station in Crookston. Should the City outsource garbage and recycling pick-up to the private sector, residents would still have the option of utilizing the transfer station’s free services.

If a private firm takes over garbage and recycling pick-up, Stassen said the tentative plan would be for the City to sell its newest garbage truck.

Ward 1 Council Member Jake Fee, while saying he has no problem putting together the RFP, predicted the costs in the proposals submitted by interested firms “will be a bit of a shocker” for Crookston residents who aren’t fans of the current system and desire something different. He said he thinks the City, over time, would still be able to handle the services cheaper than the profit-motivated private sector.

Ward 5 Council Member Dale Stainbrook said this might be the opportune time to finally make a move, and let a private provider decide what services they’re willing to provide beyond garbage and recycling pick-up. “It might be time to get out of garbage entirely,” he said. “Clean-up (weeks) is important, but if we’re going to get out of garbage, then let’s get out of it entirely.”