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Stink raised over trash ordinance

July 29, 2009
Town of Marengo officials say a mandatory trash collection ordinance would benefit residents, but some of those residents disagree, saying the proposed measure stinks.

The ordinance, which would take effect Nov. 1, would require households to pay $12.60 per month for weekly trash collection provided through the town.

The town council says the service would reduce monthly trash collection costs by almost 50 percent for some households. Opponents, however, argue it would increase costs for others, many of whom cannot afford to pay more.

"Particularly older folks who don't have a huge amount of trash to begin with," Roscoe Hooten said. "Like with me, I have four or five bags of trash per month that I take out to the recycling center."

The Crawford County Solid Waste Management District, which has a recycling center just west of town, accepts household trash at a charge of $1.25 per bag.

Ed Conway, pastor of Cedar Street Baptist Church in Marengo, said many of the families who visit the food pantry at the church are saving money by utilizing the recycling center, while others, Hooten added, are saving money by splitting the cost of a dumpster. Those families — the number served per month has doubled to more than 200 since the pantry opened a year ago — can't afford to pay even a few more dollars per month, Conway said.

He said it is true that some people would save money from the town-provided trash collection, "but all these other people are going to suffer. It's not going to help them."

Town Councilman Tony Jones said the board began considering the ordinance early this year. It did so, he said, to make affordable trash collection available to all residents.

"And the hope is this will help with our efforts to clean up our town," he added.

Each residence would receive a 96-gallon container, big enough for four to six large bags. Stand-alone businesses and apartment complexes would be exempt because the company that would collect the trash doesn't have large enough bins, Jones said.

Perhaps the most vocal opponent to the ordinance is Phil Jones, who has a sign displayed in his yard denouncing forced trash collection.

"If they honestly believe this is something helpful," he said, "why not put this (prominently) in the paper for everybody to see," instead of just in the small public notices section in the back?

"If they want Marengo like Milltown (which has trash collection), then why not let Milltown annex the thing," Jim Spurling quipped.

Spurling is opposed to the ordinance because he doesn't believe the three-person council should force residents to have trash service, let alone with a particular company. A veteran of the Korean War, he said he didn't go overseas to give a town board the power to issue such mandates.

The proposed ordinance is actually the second draft, as the first wasn't passed before the proposed effective date of July 1. More than 50 people attended a public hearing on that ordinance, with the majority against. Town officials say that number means little as many of those people were from the same households and proponents aren't nearly as vocal as opponents.

Conway said the town council was asked to let residents vote on the ordinance, or at least be surveyed, "but it's like it's falling on deaf ears."

The ordinance, Hooten said, would hurt several existing trash collection services, some of whom have a long history in the town. That would have a ripple effect on several businesses in the town, he said.

"If they don't have people to pick up trash (from), they don't come and buy gas; they don't come to the restaurant and eat," he said.

The town has agreed to contract with Wolfe Contracting Services of Paoli, which provided the low quote of four bidders. Of each $12.60 monthly household fee, Wolfe would receive $11.35, Blue River Regional Water District would receive 25 cents to administer the billing and issue statements on water bills, and the town would keep $1, in part, to pay any costs it would have.

The town's agreement with Wolfe, which would be for three years, wouldn't allow the rate to be changed if the number of households increases from the 325 to 350 on which the company based its quote. However, Wolfe would be able to enact a fuel surcharge of up to 10 percent of the contract if fuel prices increased.

Despite Blue River Regional Water District handling the billing, Tony Jones said a household's failure to pay its trash collection bill would not affect its water and sewer services.

"Could we turn off their water and sewer because they don't pay their trash bill? No," he said. "But it's just like any other bill; we could take them to small claims court."

Phil Jones, a former town councilman, said he was against a similar ordinance when he was in office. If the current council is wanting to help people financially while also cleaning up the town, he said, it should do so in other ways.

"I think they ought to encourage people to recycle, and I don't think this ordinance will do that," he said.

Jones added Marengo officials should also consider having more town-wide cleanup days like it does each April.

The last two-day cleanup cost the town $7,000, Tony Jones said. He said much of what was collected was household garbage, estimating that if the ordinance had been in place, the town would have spent as little as half that amount.

"So, we have provided the town quite a bit of services, and we continue to do that," he said.

Jones said claims that the town is against recycling aren't true, noting that he and fellow Councilman Ralph Sherron are members of the Crawford County Solid Waste Management District board.

Clerk-treasurer Mike Haverstock said other claims that the town could pay for the trash collection with federal money it received from the 2004 tornado cleanup also aren't true. The town, he said, didn't receive any reimbursement dollars because the town's Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster coordinator and clerk at the time didn't turn in the proper paperwork, costing the town one-quarter to one-half million dollars. Phil Jones was the FEMA disaster coordinator, and Hooten was the clerk.

Tony Jones said the council has worked hard to improve the town, including landing a $30,000 planning grant to address stormwater drain issues, securing $430,000 to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant and applying for a $600,000 grant to purchase abandoned properties to then either demolish or refurbish.

"We're actually going after everything we can think of to benefit the town," he said.

A date for the public hearing on the new ordinance has not been set.

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    Trash Pickup
    July 29, 2009 | 05:18 PM

    Those who oppose the trash pickup bill that is proposed by the town committee are the same people who need to clean up their property. I was born & raised in Marengo & it has always faced problems with citizens not keeping their property looking respectable. Since the new committee has taken control, I see dramatic improvements when I come back to visit. It's about time Marengo made an attempt to be a little more like the surrounding cities instead of being content with being a run-down trashy city.

Schuler Bauer
Barbara Shaw
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