City tightens trash rules

September 08, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN - In an effort to reduce trash left on streets and sidewalks, the Hagerstown City Council agreed Tuesday to reduce the amount of time some trash items can be left in front of properties before owners can be fined.

Although city officials discussed several ideas aimed at cleaning up city streets, the council did not ask city staff to draw up stiffer fines.

Chief Code Enforcement Officer John Lestitian and City Engineer Rodney Tissue described several problems the city's code enforcers face when dealing with trash.


Those problems range from people putting out trash earlier than the trash pickup schedule calls for to bulk trash being left on sidewalks for days or weeks.

"Far too many staff hours are spent chasing trash," Lestitian said.

Council members agreed that trash is a problem that needs to be addressed, but legal problems kept the council from pursuing some avenues.

The maximum fine that property owners can face is $200, and property owners can avoid the fine by cleaning up the mess except in the most extreme cases - when property owners have been identified as repeat offenders of city rules.

City Attorney Mark Boyer said it's unlikely that local judges, who already have heavy case loads, would be willing to hand out fines of more than $200 for something like a littering violation.

In response to a question from Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire about the possibility of citing all the residents in an apartment building where there are trash problems, Boyer said that would be an unreasonable rule that wouldn't stand up in court.

Boyer said that bulk trash left behind as a result of evictions is governed by state law, which city code cannot override.

The measure to which the council finally agreed was a narrower rule focusing on one type of problem: bulk trash that is not a result of an eviction. Items that would fall into that category include mattresses, fans and file cabinets.

Under current code, the city can call a contractor to remove bulk trash 10 days after the city has notified the property owner about the violation through a posted sign and a mailed notice.

The rule change for which the council voiced approval would reduce the time to five days, after which the city could fine the property owner up to $200. The official rule change will be scheduled for a future meeting.

Another proposal, voiced by Councilman Lewis C. Metzner, would be presented formally at a future meeting.

Metzner said the city should pursue making garbage containers mandatory. It's not as ugly as putting trash in bags to be picked up, and it can keep animals from tearing into the bags and spreading trash, he said.

One downside, Metzner said, is that after severe storms those containers could be scattered throughout the city.

The Herald-Mail Articles