OWOSSO — Owosso residents delivered a nearly uniform message to city officials at a public forum Tuesday on trash collection practices: Do a better job of enforcing the rules.
After city officials announced in September they were considering changing the local law that allows residents to select their own trash-hauler and instead hire a single trash-hauler with curbside recycling for the whole city, the reaction was mostly negative.
Taking the single hauler idea off the table last month — at least for now — city leaders decided to host a public forum to clear up misinformation and give local trash haulers and residents a chance to share suggestions on how to address problems with the current system.
Challenges include people hoarding trash and damage to city streets from multiple garbage trucks, officials have said. Many residents said they think the city should make enforcement rules stricter. Some suggested expanding the city’s code enforcement officer’s hours from part-time to full-time.
“I’m totally in favor of code enforcement,” said resident Tom Skinner, a landlord.
Renters are responsible for 47 percent of the city’s yearly average of 196 trash violations, officials said Tuesday.
“I’ve never had a problem with garbage. We pay to have it hauled, and our tenants pay with their rent,” Skinner said.
“After two weeks, spank them and give them a $500 ticket,” resident Greg Weinert said, adding that an exception could be made for senior citizens who can’t afford trash service.
Currently, the code enforcement officer issues warnings and writes tickets for increasing amounts, a month-and-a-half-long process. When a resident doesn’t comply, the city files a case with the court that can take months to reach a conclusion.
About 50 people attended the Owosso City Council session, which was moved from city hall to the public safety building in anticipation of an overflow crowd. The meeting lasted two-and-a-half hours.
Also present were council members, City Manager Nathan Henne and other city officials, and representatives from Kelly’s Refuse, Premier Waste Services, Waste Management, Granger Waste Services and Specialty Salvage.
Several of the trash haulers said they supported increasing enforcement of the trash rules.
Premier owner Brent Kilpatrick suggested speeding up the enforcement process and conducting an annual citywide spring cleanup.
Specialty owner Chris Spencer said he believes the city should adopt a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to renters violating the trash ordinance, and that a ticket should be issued to both the renter and landlord.
He said curbside recycling is problematic at this time because the market for recycled materials is shrinking and collected materials often still go to landfills or are incinerated.
Resident Marsha Lyttle said she is an advocate for recycling and recycles herself. She also called for stricter enforcement of existing rules.
Other residents said they support the current ordinance as written. One resident suggested police officers and firefighters assist the code enforcement officer by keeping an eye out for trash violations. Several people thanked the trash haulers who attended the forum for their services.
Residents were encouraged not to address the single-hauler issue, since it has been tabled by council members. One resident did register an objection, saying a single-hauler rule would be akin to a dictatorship and would put the city’s trash haulers out of work.
Council members, who each gave a short statement at the outset of the session, said they were open to the haulers’ and residents’ ideas and thanked them for coming.
Daniel Law said he favored “tightening up” code enforcement. Mayor Pro Tem Sue Osika said if the single-hauler idea is “untabled,” she will not support it.
Council member Jerome Haber said he believes none of the city officials at the forum want to put anyone out of business. Council member Nicholas Pidek noted nearly half of violations are committed by renters and that there are about 2,500 rental units in Owosso.
Twenty-five percent of all ordinance violations in the city are related to garbage removal, council member Janae Fear said.
Henne gave a presentation on refuse collection, describing the current ordinance, which does not require residents to hire a trash service, but does require them to dispose of trash at an appropriate facility. Henne outlined the ordinance enforcement process and offered ways to make it stricter, such as skipping the courtesy letter and issuing tickets immediately.
Other ideas Henne offered as “discussion starters” included requiring renters or residents who commit violations to hire a trash service, or mandating that all residents hire a service. He mentioned the possibility of making the city’s code enforcement officer full-time.
Henne said many of the ideas he presented he’d heard from residents who had called or contacted him by email, social media or in person.
“A lot of this came from you,” the city manager said. “You said, ‘I don’t want a single-hauler, but why don’t you try this?’”
Garbage collection was one of several items on a list council members made of goals for the year, Mayor Chris Eveleth said. Henne said the reaction to changing the refuse collection ordinance has been the biggest response so far, with residents expressing both negative and positive views.
Residents’ feedback, received both at the forum and by other means, will be compiled for council’s review. Council members will decide the next steps at a future meeting.
“One recurring thing (we heard about tonight) is code enforcement,” Law said. “We really need to address that in a big way.”