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Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012 12:36 pm

Garbage time

Trash talk in Springfield

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While fly dumping reigns, Ward 6 Ald. Cory Jobe, left, is trying to craft a garbage-collection ordinance that can pass the city council.

In between debates about the merits of tanning beds and switcheroo votes on residency requirements for city employees, the Springfield city council has managed to avoid talking about garbage collection.

If and when aldermen finally do get around to discussing how to pick up trash so that it doesn’t end up in alleys and vacant lots and innocent yards in dark of night, Steve Combs, president of the Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association, has a modest, one-sentence proposal cum statement-of-purpose he would like to see put up for a council vote.

“It is the responsibility and authority of the city of Springfield to pick up refuse on a weekly basis for every residential property in Springfield,” Combs says, reciting the capital city’s version of “I Have A Dream.” “Boom – there it is.”

To Combs and others in older neighborhoods struggling to stave off blight, a vote on that one sentence is the easiest way to figure out who cares and doesn’t care about litter. If it is not the city’s job to see that garbage is picked up to ensure public health and welfare, they ask, then whose job is it?

Good luck getting an answer.

“Is it the city or the hauler – that’s where the grey area begins,” says Ward 6 Ald. Cory Jobe, who is trying to put together a garbage-collection ordinance and enough votes to do, well, something, although it isn’t clear just what “something” will be. “Who’s responsible for making sure a property owner has garbage service? That’s the ultimate issue. There’s a lot of pieces on the puzzle board, and we don’t have a puzzle put together yet.”

The simplest answer – putting the job out for bid and awarding a contract – is, of course, impossible, given that it makes an enormous amount of sense and city government in Springfield all-too-often does not. And so public officials who won’t take responsibility for public health and sanitation continue to gnaw the edges of an issue that has festered through at least three mayoral administrations.

One of the latest ideas being chewed is to divide the city into zones so that all four of the private haulers who do business in Springfield simultaneously pick up trash in each zone. That could mean as many as eight trucks going down the same street on a single day to pick up garbage and recyclables. Proponents say it would concentrate the pain so that cans would appear on curbs or alleys for 24 hours instead of every day of the week, and it would also mean just one day of trucks collecting trash on any given street.

While fly dumping reigns, Ward 6 Ald. Cory Jobe, left, is trying to craft a garbage-collection ordinance that can pass the city council.
Jobe says it’s an idea worth exploring. It’s also an idea that would do nothing to solve the basic problem: As many as 7,000 households in the city don’t have garbage service, Jobe says, and that trash is going somewhere.

“What we’re doing now doesn’t work because there’s too many properties without garbage service,” Jobe says. “I’m not certain what the ultimate solution is. … I’m going to say by the end of October we should have an idea of where we’re going.”

Last spring there was talk of including tabs for trash collection on City Water, Light and Power bills to ensure that every occupied residence has trash service, with haulers receiving compensation via a voucher system. There was also talk of having a written proposal out for public discussion by summer’s end.

Now, Jobe and other city officials are meeting with haulers and trying to figure out what, if anything, can pass the council which doesn’t seem keen on cutting the number of haulers to one which, if nothing else, would reduce wear-and-tear on crumbling residential streets.

“My whole approach to this is, I want to work with everyone,” Jobe says. “I want the four waste haulers to stay in business. I want them to have their customers and provide the special quality service that they all do at a competitive business rate.”

Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin said that he doesn’t favor Combs’ simple one-sentence proposal to establish the city’s responsibility to keep garbage where it belongs.

“It sounds like de-privatizing garbage pickup,” McMenamin says. “I think it’s too much way too fast – it ignores current reality.”

Current reality is finding someone else’s trash in your garbage can or on your property while garbage piles up in alleys, according to activists who live in older neighborhoods.

“Anyone who doesn’t vote for that is wanting to keep this city stuck in a rut,” says Michael Higgins, who lives in Ward 7 and ran against McMenamin last year.

The city is spending too much time worrying about what haulers want and not enough time figuring out what is best for taxpayers, says Higgins, who favors a centralized billing system run by the city to ensure everyone has garbage service.

“You just draw the plan and present it to the haulers and say ‘This is how we’re going to do it in this city and you can be part of it or not part of it,’” Higgins said.

It’s not that simple, according to McMenamin.

“You’ve got a very complex, geometric calculus equation on this garbage pickup,” the alderman says.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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