OWOSSO CITY EMPLOYEES sometimes are forced to wear biohazard suits when cleaning up residential trash ordinance violations, putting themselves at risk when dealing with mountains of accumulated waste located in garages, backyards or even basements. The city has even been forced to utilize a front-loader (above) to help with massive clean up situations, such as what was uncovered in the garage.
(Courtesy Photo/City of Owosso)
by Karen Mead-Elford, co-editor
The Owosso City Council focused on trash collection and curbside recycling during the 5th-Monday meeting on Monday, Sept. 30. Owosso City Manager Nathan Henne offered council members a presentation highlighting ways to improve the city’s trash collection ordinance with the thought of eventually adopting a curbside recycling item. These meetings differ from regular meetings, with the direction being to initialize discussions toward making important organizational changes. Concerning curbside recycling and trash collection, talk amongst council members was just to lay down the groundwork for future discussions.
According to Henne’s presentation, the city’s current waste collection ordinance was passed in 1997 and does not mandate that a resident must hire a trash hauler, though it does state that trash is not allowed to accumulate or to be stored inappropriately. There are approximately seven (possibly eight) trash haulers operating twice weekly in the city year round – since trash collection is allowed to happen south of M-21 on Tuesdays and north of M-21 on Thursdays.
According to the ordinance, it is the property owner’s duty to provide “approved refuse receptacles,” to use them correctly and to dispose of “such refuse or waste material on such regular basis as is necessary to avoid the creation of a public nuisance.” Rates/charges are then determined between a property owner and a trash hauler or collection service with it being illegal to leave trash containers in front of a property “closer than 30 feet back from” the street.
In short, the city has over a twenty-year history in allowing residents to chose their own garbage service – allowing for considerable trash hauling traffic on city streets. Henne’s presentation detailed a potential plan of action to move to a single-hauler service once per week with a “curbside recycling component.” A three to five year bid would be offered to the lowest bidder with the “scope of service” allowing for once-weekly trash collection and also oversized items to be collected at no extra charge at the start of the month. His suggested plan would see the trash charges submitted via water/sewer bills and a theoretical millage increase from 1 mill to a max of 3 mills.
Owosso Code Enforcement Officer Mac McIlmurray and Owosso Building Official Brad Hissong, along with Bill Brooks from DPW, were on hand to offer their own experiences on the current trash issue in the city. Three out of four sectors of the city, minus the northwestern quadrant, are broadly inundated with trash accumulation complaints. Loosely 65 percent are related to rental properties. Some instances are so awful that city employees are forced to wear biohazard suits during trash removal, due to human excretions and other health-hazardous waste.
In a phone call with Hissong on Tuesday, Oct. 1, he shared that he has seen many situations where people hide their accumulated trash when confronted – shifting it from the garage to the backyard or even the basement. “We aren’t about beating people up when we talk to them,” he said, recognizing that some people don’t have the means to hire a trash hauler. “If I had a truck full of trash bags, I’d give them to them. We do care and we’ve tried hard to clean up the city. But we clean up one spot and two more show up.”
Hissong has decades of experience behind him and has seen a similar plan of action work, as suggested by Henne, when he was employed by the city of Fenton. Fenton follows a highly successful refuse and recycling plan under a contract with Republic Waste Services – minus any bag limits, ensuring that most trash is properly picked up before it becomes a health hazard. The Fenton ordinance even allows for the collection of large household items, such as appliances, at no additional charge. Republic Waste Services, under Fenton guidelines, even recycles Freon and similar waste components.
Hissong stated that he is eager to see an “environmental clean up of the town” involving the obvious need for a “managed program.”
In the ensuing discussion during the Monday meeting, Mayor Chris Eveleth said that he is “on the fence,” since he is uncomfortable with the focus on a single-hauler service and does not necessarily want to see council forced into a situation where they are eliminating competition or having to arbitrate negotiations. Council members Jerry Haber and Dan Law both voiced that they are against the idea of a single-hauler service for the city. Haber said he does not want to risk putting someone local out of business. Law said he didn’t think a possible increase in taxes would solve the problem since “sometimes these people just don’t care.”
Council member Janae Fear recognized that trash is an enormous problem for the city and said she believes if Owosso offers curbside recycling, that surrounding areas might follow. She also informed the council on how the recycling industry has evolved, once again developing in the U.S. – thus, opening the door for Owosso.
Council member Nick Pidek requested more information, wanting to see a balance between what the city might gain and a potential additional cost to the taxpayer.
The next regular city council meeting will be Monday, Oct. 7. Meeting agendas are always available at www.ci.owosso.mi.us.