In deciding against contracting with private vendor, they also look favorably on a rate increase to erase annual deficit.

The City of Crookston won’t be ending its garbage and recycling collection program in favor of contracting with a private vendor, after all, after a unanimous Crookston City Council vote this week in favor of continuing to do things the way they’ve been done for many years.

Countrywide Sanitation of Grand Forks in late 2019 responded to the City’s request for proposals for curbside garbage and recycling collection – the lone firm to respond to the RFP – and had attended multiple council meetings in the months since as they made their case for the council to end the City’s longtime program in favor of contracting with them.

While Crookston’s younger and perhaps more tech-savvy demographic made its displeasure known via social media in recent weeks with the City’s current system and expressed a desire to make the switch, in the end it appears that Crookston’s older residents, many of whom were concerned about their inability to push the large roll-carts to their curbs, convinced council members to maintain the status quo. (Some who have for many years had garbage collection in their alleys behind their houses were also concerned about having to switch to curbside pick-up, since Countrywide’s large truck and its robotic arm wouldn’t work for alley pick-ups.)

“Personally I’m for (making the change), but my ward has spoken,” Ward 1 Council Member Jake Fee noted.

But it appears that it won’t be entirely status quo going forward. At the council’s request, Interim Administrator Angel Weasner in advance of this week’s council meeting provided them with a rate increase estimate for Crookston residents that would be necessary to eliminate an annual deficit of almost $55,000 in the City’s sanitation budget. Currently, every water/utility bill in the community is assessed a $5 monthly fee whether they utilize the City’s garbage and recycling collection or not – many Crookston residents haul their garbage free of charge to the Polk County Transfer Station in town.

Weasner estimates an increase of $2 or $2.50 per month should do the trick.

Council members said before voting that some of the feedback they’d received from those who didn’t want the City to go with Countrywide indicated that Crookston residents would be OK with paying a little more each month for City garbage and recycling collection.

Count Marsha Odom among them. At the podium, she said she’d had “excellent” service throughout the 33 years she’d lived in Sampson’s Addition, and that she is a particular fan of the two clean-up weeks each year. (Countrywide had said they’d come up with a subscription/fee structure to have at least one clean-up week per year, but council members were a bit wary, given how popular the spring and fall events are.) Odom also said she was a big user of the twice-per-month twig and branch collection during the warmer months each year.

“I would be more than happy to double what I pay a month to balance the collection budget,” Odom said, adding that even with a City rate increase, Countrywide’s proposed minimum charge per month of $16.85 would amount to a “huge increase” over what she’s paying now. “And I wouldn’t have to push two large carts to the curb,” she added. “If you do this, I pay more money for less service and there’s no local control. Once the decision is made, there’s no going back.”

Of course, the yellow and orange City bags customers have to purchase in addition to the monthly fee remain a major target of derision, as many Crookston residents wonder why they can’t simply put garbage on their curbsides with cheaper bags they choose to buy, whether they’re Glad, Hefty or whatever.

Asked this week what the deal is with the City-issued bags, Public Works Director Pat Kelly said it dates back to a state law from the early 1990s aimed at making people more prudent with the garbage waste they produce and to encourage more recycling. 

He explains: 

“Garbage collectors are required to charge customers based on volume or weight. You either weigh each person’s garbage…and a couple cities tried that and I don’t know how well it worked. Or you have a certain volume; the more bags you need to use, the more bags you have to buy, and your costs go up. The big roll-carts are a specific volume so that’s how they address that. Or you have bags. Most cities have one colored bag, but we started the smaller (orange) bag so seniors and others who don’t generate a lot of garbage have a smaller option.”

In voting to continue forward as-is, council members also voiced concerns about the five-year length of contract requested by Countrywide, the potential for rate increases, and the finality of making the change, i.e. the City, had it gone with Countrywide, would have sold its garbage and recycling collection truck and related equipment.

In voting against the change, the City will have to fill a sanitation position that had been left vacant after a recent retirement as the council pondered the future of garbage and recycling collection.

The council decided to wait a couple of weeks before potentially taking any action on a specific monthly rate increase that would eliminate the sanitation deficit.

“I don’t need to make money on this, but I would like to break even,” Ward 2 Council Member Steve Erickson said. “I never heard one person say they wouldn’t pay a little more.”