COLUMBIA- Columbia residents are likely to get another chance to vote on whether they believe an automated roll cart system for trash collection is the best option for the city.
The Columbia City Council voted 4-3 to put the wheels in motion for a November ballot issue that would ask residents whether they support or oppose the switch. The city’s legal team will be responsible for drafting the precise language of the ballot measure.
The council took up the issue toward the end of its regular meeting Monday night. Amy Belcher, who founded a Facebook group that now has more than 1,000 followers, had addressed the council earlier in the evening. She said the time has come to switch to roll carts, given the city’s forced suspension of curbside recycling service and the exorbitant workers’ compensation and temporary worker costs the city’s Solid Waste utility incurs each year.
Fifth Ward Councilman Matt Pitzer during general council comments said the time has come for the city to change the way the city collects trash and recycling.
“It’s clear that the system is broken, and it’s kinda falling apart ... ,” he said. “It’s time to junk it.”
There’s a significant rub, though. Columbia voters in March 2016 approved a referendum banning the city from using automated systems involving roll carts for trash collection. It passed with 54% of the vote.
Mayor Brian Treece said he was reluctant to subvert the will of citizens who voted for that initiative. He likened it to the Missouri General Assembly repealing constitutional amendments that have been approved by Missouri voters.
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Betsy Peters joined Second Ward Councilman Mike Trapp, Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas and Pitzer in supporting a November vote. Treece, Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala and First Ward Councilwoman Pat Fowler opposed it.
Fowler suggested there would be time during upcoming budget discussions to further flesh out the pros and cons of a change. Pitzer and Peters, however, noted that without a November vote, the issue would linger far longer than the troubled utility can tolerate.
Despite her vote, Peters said she wondered about the wisdom of a ballot issue. If voters were to reject roll carts again, she asked, “What do we do then? There’s really not an option. We can’t keep doing trash bags.”
The 2016 referendum established ordinances that prevent the city from converting to roll carts.
Thomas said he has heard from numerous constituents who voted “yes” on the 2016 ban who say they would change their minds and vote in favor of roll carts if they had another chance.
Pitzer suggested another vote might produce a different result. “The facts on the ground have changed,” he said.
The council also struggled with what the wording of a ballot issue might be. Would it focus on repealing those ordinances, or would it simply ask citizens whether they favor roll carts?
City Counselor Nancy Thompson said the ballot language wouldn’t need to be bogged down by complicated language regarding the potential repeal of ordinances. Citizens should be able to vote “yes” if they are for roll carts or “no” if they are against them, Thompson said.
“We can make it clear.”
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