A mattress flung among garbage carts is a prime example of fly dumping. RoundTable photo

An agenda item labeled “Fly Dumping Discussion” actually turned into a call to increase the special pick-up fees that appear on residents’ water bills when crews pick up refuse outside of a cart. The discussion, at the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting on Jan. 11,  will not result in any immediate changes. Rather, City staff suggested Council consider alternatives including raising an additional $750,000 per year in revenues by increasing special pick-up fees.

At present, according to a memo from Public Works Agency Director Dave Stoneback, the City’s “special pick-up program [costs] $746,000 annually.” The cost is broken down into labor and equipment costs of $240,000 and tipping fees – the charges for dumping refuse in a regional landfill – of $506,000. Labor cost comes from employees who already work full time for the City, and equipment cost comes from trucks owned and operated by the City.

The City collected just $91,500 in special pick-up fees from residents in 2015.

As it turns out, fly dumping represents a relatively small portion of the total. Fly dumping occurs when someone dumps trash, generally in an alley, on the fly – that is, a location they do not have permission to leave garbage. Mattresses appearing in alleys are a typical example of fly dumping. “It’s pretty exciting when you wake up and there are 10 mattresses in your alley,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward.

Of special pick-ups, Mr. Stoneback said, fly dumping accounts for about 10% of City activity, based upon a study the City conducted over the summer.

Mr. Stoneback said the City currently charges a special pick-up fee to the owner of the property where such a mattress landed. The charge appears on the property owner’s water bill, regardless of whether the property owner called the City to report fly dumping.

“When a resident calls the City to report three mattresses dumped behind my house, they still get charged a special pick up fee,” said Ald. Rainey. “Why would you assume it was a resident [who dumped the mattresses]?” she asked.

It is very difficult to prove where the fly-dumped material came from, replied Mr. Stoneback. Charging for special pick-ups, regardless of whether a resident had called to report fly-dumping, resulted in a bump from the recent special pick-up charges of about $85,000 to 2015’s $91,500.

“People who fly dump, they find their spots … Fly dumping is real,” said Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward. “Residents have to pick up the costs, and it’s very unfair.”

Ald. Rainey, among others, called for the City to stop charging residents who called in fly- dumping reports. It is unclear whether the City will immediately stop doing so.

City staff asked for direction as to the special pick-up program as a whole. Alternatives explored included outsourcing to either Groot or Lakeshore, but using City employees is less expensive. Groot would charge $225 per hour and $6 more per ton in tipping fees; Lakeshore would charge $150 per hour with tipping fees the same as the City. The City estimates its cost at $115 per hour.

The City currently charges $25 for the first three cubic yards of special pick-up, then $10 for each additional three cubic yards. Three cubic yards is roughly the size of a small couch. The roughly 3,000 calls per year averages about 12 calls per business day, but during summer months the total is closer to 17 calls per day.

The City offers two bulk trash pick-up cycles every year, one in the spring and one in the fall. These are essentially free special pick-ups, said Mr. Stoneback. “In 2015, the cost associated with the bulk pick-ups totaled $50,000, which includes the cost for labor and equipment ($31,000) and tipping fees ($19,000). Providing this service continues to place a strain on the Public Works Agency staff as the amount of debris collected continues to grow,” wrote Mr. Stoneback in his memo to Council.

In 2013, the City collected 235.4 tons of bulk trash; 264.31 tons in 2014;  and 344.96 tons in 2015. There are no immediate plans to discontinue the program, but Mr. Stoneback indicated the possibility the City might do just that.

For now, the estimated cost of special and bulk trash pick-ups nears $800,000, according to information provided to Council. “You look at this, there’s no way we can continue to do that,” said Ald. Holmes.

Alternative suggested by Mr. Stoneback’s presentation started with no change to the current fee structure. He also suggested the City could stop charging for all special pick-up requests – essentially recognize special pick-ups as a service provided by the City as one alternative, or actually believing residents when they report fly dumping. Another alternative presented was to “charge residents the true cost” of special pick-ups by adding $8.68 per month to everyone’s water bill.

Finally, he suggested raising special pick-up fees to recover more of the costs. At $750,000 total estimated cost, and 3,000 special pick-ups per year, rough math shows the true cost to be about $250 per pick up using Mr. Stoneback’s numbers. That added fee could result in a significant increase in the activity that was the stated topic of discussion – illegal fly-dumping.