By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Ensuring that every residence has solid waste collection service on a regular basis as the city code mandates will be the first priority for the new Solid Waste Task Force, the group decided at its first meeting Wednesday night.
But how to determine who does not have service, and how to enforce the code, will be challenging, members agreed.
The 17-member task force also chose eliminating the dumping of residential solid waste in Dumpsters and assisting with city beautification and cleanup as focus areas, ranked at the top of a list of 13 goals provided by City Manager Daron Hall as a starting point.
The group was formed Nov. 13 by order of the City Commission, which directed the task force to explore options related to improving what the commission considers a serious problem related to health and wellness as well as beautification and quality of life. The task force has 90 days in which to present the City Commission with a plan for consideration.
The trash issue has been a contentious one in Pittsburg, drawing as many as 200 residents to a heated and emotional public hearing, and filling Hall’s mailbox with dozens of angry letters from residents. And, trash haulers had circulated petitions in an attempt to put a stop to what they believed was a city takeover of their businesses.
But no animosity was displayed at Wednesday night’s meeting from task force members or the public.
Blake Benson, task force co-chairman and president of the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said before beginning the meeting, “If you came expecting a rumble, we hope you’ll be sorely disappointed.”
More than 30 residents were in attendance and were given the opportunity to comment for 10 minutes, but there were no takers.
Haulers, including Chuck Carr of WCA, Merle Lloyd of Lloyd’s Trash Service and Charlie Maransani of Short’s Trash Service, were quite vocal. They were largely in agreement throughout the meeting, saying one of the biggest problems in Pittsburg is illegal dumping in commercial Dumpsters, particularly on weekends. It was a position echoed by Gerry Dennett, a homebuilder and rental property owner.
“Monday morning, everyone else is dumping trash in my Dumpsters,” Dennett said. “I supply trash service to half the people on the south end of town.”
Another challenge, Carr said, is that some residents will subscribe to a trash service for the minimum time required by a company — in his case, three months — in order to get rid of what they’ve accumulated, then they halt service. Or, he said, they jump from trash service to trash service without paying their bills.
Trash haulers agreed to work in the coming weeks at tallying the number of residential customers they serve in an attempt to help the city get a clearer picture of how many residents do not have service. Making that task challenging, they said, is the number of duplexes, four-plexes and multiplexes they serve.
“Learning that number will be a crucial part of determining a potential solution,” Benson said.
The figure could be as high as 40 percent, said task force member Jim Triplett, who is president of the Southeast Kansas Recycling Center, chairman of the Crawford County Solid Waste Planning Commission and a member of the Kansas Solid Waste Grants Advisory Committee.
According to Public Works Director Bill Beasley, the city codes department mailed 5,748 letters for violations between Jan. 1 and Nov. 26 this year. Of those, 1,988 were for trash violations. The trash code is difficult to enforce, he said, and often results in municipal court hearings or fines placed as liens against properties.
Other topics included whether to bill for trash service as part of city-issued water bills, whether to franchise trash service so that haulers could serve designated portions of town and save fuel costs, and whether to reinstitute the citywide annual cleanup — which in the past cost tens of thousands of dollars from the city budget and was abused by nonresidents.
“In the last citywide pickup, I was running five trucks eight days all day long with 30- and 40-yard containers,” Carr said. “That’s the reason the city can’t afford it. People took advantage of the situation ... and it causes the taxpayers to pay more.”
According to Mark Mehall, SEK Recycling Center director, Pittsburg is recycling just 10 to 15 percent of its solid waste.
THE TASK FORCE will next meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12, in the Beard-Shanks Law Enforcement Center. The meeting will be open to the public and televised on Channel 6.