By JOSH NEWTON
Tahlequah city councilors continued to kick the proverbial trash can down the road Monday evening when they tabled action on two proposals that could replace a Dumpster regulation ordinance.
Local businessman Bryce Felts has been pleading with the city council in recent months, hoping officials will revisit an ordinance that requires many Dumpsters in the city to be enclosed. Felts believes businesses that existed before the ordinance’s adoption last summer should be exempt.
One new proposal would extend the deadline to comply with regulations from January 2014 to June 30, 2014. A second option would provide an exemption to businesses in operation before June 3, 2013.
Monday night, Felts quickly outlined many of his previous concerns – that local businesses have been hit with an “unfunded mandate,” and that enclosing Dumpsters could create new areas for crime.
But he spent most of his time telling councilors the new ordinance will cost the city. Felts told councilors he believes the sanitation department will spend an extra $117,000 per year on labor for the extra time it will take crews to open and close the gates on enclosed Dumpsters.
“You’re going to have 2,600 extra hours of equipment working to do that work, because it’s going to take more time on the equipment,” said Felts.
That could cost $52,000 more per year, Felts estimated.
Felts suggested additional expenses will eventually be passed on to “feepayers of the sanitation department.”
“Private businesses do not have the capital to comply with this ordinance easily, and I’m wondering how the city’s going to come up with that kind of money,” said Felts. “Is the sanitation department going to have to hire more people?”
Mayor Jason Nichols said the sanitation department’s supervisor, Les Ford, is happy with the new ordinance, and doesn’t foresee a problem with the labor burden.
“Taxpayers, I think, do have a problem with it,” Felts said.
Felts: What are sanitation employees doing now?
Nichols said Ford – who was absent from Monday night’s meeting – hasn’t indicated the sanitation department will face an extra $117,000 a year in labor costs.
“Then what are the sanitation folks doing now if they’ve got that much extra time?” Felts asked.
“Picking up the trash that isn’t contained by an enclosure,” Nichols replied. “If Les were here, he could give you a proportion, but it’s my understanding it’s a pretty high number. He has made clear ... that he is fully supportive, and is in fact wishing in some ways [the ordinance] were more aggressive.”
Nichols also believes business owners will be more upset if the Dumpster rule isn’t in place and code enforcement officers instead enforce existing laws that allow for fines of $200 per day – even as much as $1,000 – for trash violations.
“We tried to back into a couple of softer solutions to the trash problem and the graffiti problem and have been beat up both times for it, I think unnecessarily, because this is the easier solution,” said Nichols.
Under the ordinance passed last June, Dumpsters in the city that are visible from rights-of-way or a residence must be enclosed. The ordinance provides some exemptions, mostly based on safety concerns.
“There are two different sections [in the ordinance]: there’s a section for existing Dumpsters that have much smaller requirements, and a section for new Dumpsters,” said Nichols. “We did in fact try to offer exemptions for existing Dumpsters, not wanting to put too much of a burden on existing owners, and yet still meet what we think is the honorable goal of trying to keep the community clean.”
Felts asked the council to vote, one way or another, during Monday’s meeting so business owners would know what to expect.
“Bryce, you’ve mentioned a lot of problems. What about some solutions that you might have?” Ward 3 Councilor Maurice Turney asked. “How are you going to cut costs?”
Felts said he couldn’t cut costs, but his solution would help keep costs from rising.
“The purpose of the ordinance is a good one, to prevent accumulation of garbage and rubbish from spreading throughout the city ... and to enhance the beautification,” said Felts. “But ... I don’t think it’ll do what you want, and I think it’ll cost way too much to do it.”
Ward 1 Councilor Diane Weston requested the matter be tabled until Ford attends a meeting and can answer more questions. Ward 2 Councilor Charles Carroll and Turney voted with Weston to table the matter, while Ward 4 Councilor Linda Spyres voted against the motion to table.
Nichols reminded the council that postponing action “leaves everybody in a little bit of a bind.”
“There’s an ordinance on the books now,” Nichols said. “If you take no action, the one on the books will be ready to go [in January].”
The next regular meeting of the Tahlequah City Council is Monday, Dec. 2, at 7 p.m., in the council chambers.