Town Talks Trash, Hedges, Customer Service

BERLIN – The Berlin Mayor and Council covered a wide variety of issues in their bi-weekly meeting, from a new policy on trash receptacles to allowable heights for hedges, walls and fences near intersections to the need for good customer service in town offices. The following is a quick glance at some of the topics discussed:

***The council unanimously approved an ordinance essentially revoking the section of the town’s existing code regarding garbage, rubbish and refuse and replacing it with an entirely new section. Much of the need for the action revolves around Berlin’s move to town-issued automatic or semi-automatic trash receptacles for residential properties.

Berlin is in the process of issuing 95-gallon trash receptacles to residential properties that can be easily loaded onto municipal trash collection trucks, similar to those in use in other communities. The measure is both practical and aesthetic, as the new receptacles will eliminate the need for several mismatched trashcans at the ends of driveways where practical.

However, there are obviously some areas in town, particularly in the more urban areas, where the cumbersome, 95-gallon automated receptacles will not be practical either because they are just too big or the trucks wouldn’t be able to access them. Before approving the ordinance on Monday, the council had to address the latter.

As written, the section of the new code states, “the number of trash receptacles collected from any dwelling unit shall not generally exceed six per pick-up,” and “town supplied collection containers shall not exceed one per dwelling unit for residential properties.”

Councilwoman Paula Lynch said the wording in the code was vague because it suggested an “either, or” policy.

After some debate, a sentence was added to the code suggesting the town-supplied receptacles should be used in all areas where practical, but in areas where they would not work, not more than six private trashcans would be allowed.

“Essentially, if you’re eligible for one of the town-owned receptacles, you’re getting it,” said Town Attorney Dave Gaskill. “That’s intent of this.”

Others on the council questioned the language regarding the six private trashcans allowed per dwelling unit in residential areas where the town-owned receptacles aren’t practical.

“I’m a little concerned by that section,” said Mayor Gee Williams. “If we have an eight-unit apartment building, they could have 48 individual trashcans out there. I don’t think anybody wants to see that.”

Town Administrator Tony Carson said the ordinance as written has some leeway built into it for certain unique situations.

“We can analyze and evaluate situations case by case where the big town-issued receptacles aren’t practical,” he said. “In those cases, private receptacles will be allowed at a limit of six per residential unit.”

With that said, the council unanimously approved the ordinance.

***Another ordinance up for consideration on Monday dealt with the height of fences, walls and hedges in close proximity to intersections throughout the town. The current code is supposed to prohibit any hedges, walls or fences within 25 feet of street intersections throughout the town.

Another section of the code deals specifically with allowable height of hedges, fences and walls on private property not near intersections including a maximum height of four feet in front yards to as high as six feet in side and rear yards. Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward said the rather nebulous wording in the existing code could create problems.

“If somebody came to me and complained about a neighbor’s seven-foot hedge, I’d have to go out there and have them cut down to the acceptable height in the code,” he said.

Williams said the intent of the ordinance was to address the height of walls, fences and hedges in the sight lines near intersections and not to strictly enforce the rules in side and rear yards.

“We don’t want to regulate how high your hedges are in your side or rear yard,” he said. “That’s never been the intent of this. We shouldn’t be in the business of regulating bushes and hedges.”

Ward said the ordinance was basically a housekeeping measure to address certain problematic areas in the code.

“There are inconsistencies in the code that we discover from time to time,” he said. “This is an attempt to clean them up one by one as we find them.”

*** During a series of reports from various department heads, the council learned the town had recently hired a customer service representative to handle citizen complaints, problems with bills and the like. Williams took the opportunity to remind town staff they should all be cognizant of the importance of customer service.

“You’re never going to get an electronic message when you call Town Hall,” he said. “Not only are you going to get a person, you’re going to get a person that has the information to help you. We have a customer service person, but everybody in this building should be in the business of customer service.”