BERLIN – Abuse of the town’s bulk trash pickup service has prompted officials to reevaluate Berlin’s existing policy.
On Monday, the Berlin Town Council reviewed proposed changes to the town’s solid waste and special collection policies. While the changes to the solid waste section were insignificant, the proposed alterations to the town’s special waste collection policy require residents to pay if they put more than three items out during bulk pickup. Officials said the change was being proposed because people were taking advantage of the town’s bulk pickup service, which is offered twice a year.
“It’s grown so much in such a short time it can’t be that suddenly everything’s wearing out in all these homes in Berlin,” Mayor Gee Williams said. “I think we’ve become a dumping ground.”
Town Administrator Jeff Fleetwood said that in 2018, the town spent $9,500 collecting and disposing of 22.4 tons of items through bulk pickup. In 2019, the town as of Tuesday had collected 38 tons of items at a cost of $18,584. Fleetwood pointed out that figure would go up because there was still one day of bulk pickup set for Wednesday. He showed elected officials photos of the array of items set out for pickup.
“I wanted everyone to get an idea of what’s happening, what’s going on throughout town with bulk pickup,” he said. “I’m not going to sit here and judge and say it’s too much, it’s not enough, but I just know there’s a significant amount of stuff that’s being taken out to the curb twice a year with the bulk pickup.”
Dave Wheaton, public works superintendent, added the amount of construction materials the town picked up was a particular problem.
“When we go to the landfill they charge us a demolition fee which is higher than a regular garbage fee,” Wheaton said. “That’s one of the worst things for us.”
Fleetwood said that after reviewing policies in other municipalities staff recommended the town pick up three items for free and then charge for additional items.
“Anything beyond three items there would be a $25 fee to arrange that and then a $25 additional fee per item,” he said.
Resident Marie Velong said the new policy was complicated and didn’t take into account the scavengers that often pick up items from the curb.
“We have to stop this growing menace,” Williams said. “It’s ridiculous. We don’t want the scavengers in town anyway.”
He said there was no incentive for the town to continue “looking the other way” as people abused the bulk pickup program. Williams said town officials believed residents were calling friends and relatives and encouraging them to bring their bulk items for pickup.
“It’s grown so much in such a short time it can’t be that suddenly everything’s wearing out in all these homes in Berlin,” he said. “I think we’ve become a dumping ground.”
Velong said she didn’t think that was the case.
“Well that’s our belief on this and we’re responsible for doing something about it,” Williams said. “If you’re offended by that, I’m sorry, but we’re not going to let this town become a trash heap.”
Velong said the town was encouraging dumping by charging residents for bulk pickup. Williams said they could haul their own trash away.
“They can haul it away if they don’t want to pay the fee which is commonplace in just about every incorporated municipality in this region,” he said. “Somebody has to protect the standard of living in this town. There’s a quality of life here that apparently some people don’t recognize or appreciate.”
Velong pointed out construction materials, which town staff said were one of the main expenses of bulk pickup, were already prohibited during bulk pickup under the town’s existing policy. Fleetwood said that the issue was a growing problem and referenced a home he’d seen with multiple windows set out for pickup.
“Then don’t pick them up,” Velong said. “That’s what you have the code for. You don’t punish the whole town for something one property owner’s doing. None of this makes sense and it’s overly complicated.”
A public hearing on the changes is set for the town’s Nov. 25 council meeting.