Dumpster-dodging: Bill to clean up alleys opposed by some

Posted: August 19, 2009

At first glance, City Councilman Bill Green may appear a bit paranoid as he calls reporters together this afternoon for a news conference about the problem of trashy-looking dumpsters.

Green won't say where the news conference, being held in a Center City alley lined with dumpsters, will happen until reporters arrive at City Hall.

Green worries that trash haulers and dumpster users would rush to clean up the alley if he announced its location in advance.

The councilman's caution comes two months after he fell prey to a dumpster double-cross.

In June, Mayor Nutter's staff urged Green to delay a vote on the legislation so that they could collaborate on it. But, at the same time, the Commerce Department was e-mailing community groups, asking them to help defeat the measure by putting pressure on Green's Council colleagues.

Green found out about those e-mails after he agreed to hold off on the Council vote.

Nutter's staff now says that it is working with Green on the dumpster legislation, noting that today's news conference will focus in part on how the measure could help the city raise cash during its ongoing budget crisis.

The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce in June also called on Green to hold off on the legislation until after the Council's summer break so that some "meaningful dialogue" could happen. Chamber officials had that talk with Green last month but still oppose his legislation.

Green's legislation mandates that electronic medallions be mounted on dumpsters, making it easier for city employees to determine which trash-hauling company owns the bin and which customer is using it. He sees it not as a moneymaker for the city but a solution to trash-strewn alleys.

City regulations place the onus on the customers for overflowing dumpsters, but city workers now have trouble determining who they are. Trash haulers who own the dumpsters get the tickets instead but let them pile up and negotiate for a reduced penalty with the city because they're not responsible under the law.

"As a consequence, we're collecting 24 percent of all the tickets that we write, which is ridiculous," said Green, who estimates that the city missed out on $640,000 in fines last year.

Concerns from Nutter's administration about the legislation previously focused on three factors: the cost of the technology, the reliability of the equipment and the impact on local businesses.

Green said that the city seems to be overcoming its technology concerns since it has developed a request for proposals for companies to provide one part of the handheld readers that could be used to detect signals from the dumpster medallions. He said that fees and fines defined in the legislation would bring in about $2.5 million per year for the city to be used to enforce the law.

Chamber spokeswoman Mary Flannery yesterday said that her organization's members object to the fees but are not worried about the potential for increased fines if it becomes easier for the city to determine who uses a dumpster.

"At this point, we don't feel like we can support it in its current form," she said of the legislation.

Green, who stopped a vote on the issue at the last possible minute during Council's June 18 session, vowed to bring the issue back up for a vote this fall and said that he had enough votes among his colleagues to get it passed.

Green this week said that he wasn't holding a grudge against the Nutter administration for trying to defeat his legislation. And he didn't seem too worried about it passing in the near future.

"The reality is, until the last minute, I hadn't agreed to hold the bill," Green said. "They went into defeat-the-bill mode. They didn't have the votes to do it."

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