Council Members Circumvent Department Head on Garbage Can Ordinance
By Brandi Makuski
Thousands of residents in the City of Stevens Point could soon be out of compliance if changes to the city’s garbage can ordinance is passed on Nov. 20.
The proposal, which passed the committee level unanimously after only seven minutes of discussion, and no public comment, on Nov. 13, essentially prohibits residents from storing refuse and recycling bins anywhere that faces a public right-of-way.
The new ordinance is more restrictive, according to the city’s ordinance officer, and would include storage areas currently allowed under existing rules.
Under the new ordinance, residents with short lot lines or odd-shaped/corner properties would need to store their bins either inside a garage or behind some type of screening, such as tall shrubbery or a fence. The screening would need to be approved by the Community Development Department, Councilwoman Cindy Nebel said.
Nebel brought forward the proposal in October, saying the existing ordinance was not clear, and contradicted another ordinance related to garbage. Nebel said constituents in her neighborhood — comprised largely of off-campus student rentals — regularly complained garbage bins weren’t being maintained properly by some residents, and were too often overflowing with trash.
“As codes are written they need to be understandable so they can be enforced, also so they reflect the community’s values and goals,” Nebel said in October. “It wasn’t clear whether [the ordinance referred to] garbage in a trash cart or not in a trash cart.”
The ordinance clarifies that language, but adds some additional changes — and not everyone was convinced they would be well-received.
Mayor Mike Wiza said both he and City Attorney Andrew Beveridge asked Nebel to not bring the proposal forward, citing the ordinance rewrite was already underway via Neighborhood Improvement Officer Mark Kordus, and saying there would likely be a lot of objection to the changes.
Also problematic, Beveridge said, was enforcement because there was a lot of grey area involved.
“Think about the way that speeding is enforced; if we started writing tickets for 26-miles-an-hour in a 25 [zone], we’d have a lot of angry people,” Beveridge said. “If we enforced the code for peeling paint on wood, the minute we see a dime-sized bit of peeling paint, we’d have half the city here on an appeal.”
Kordus said the new ordinance also flies in the face of results of a recent citywide survey on property maintenance codes, which show a majority of residents believe they should be allowed to store garbage cans anywhere on their property, so long as it isn’t on the curb or sidewalk. That survey was conducted through Kordus’ office shortly after he was hired in February, and later presented to the City Council.
“[The proposal] doesn’t necessarily reflect the wishes of the people; that survey was a tool we were going to be using in rewriting the ordinances,” he said. “It’s the only real official record the city has on a lot of these issues, so that’s what we’re basing the rewrite on, in part.”
Addressing the garbage can ordinance has always been on Kordus’ list, he said, but he’s not sure why the proposal appeared to take priority when he considers many other issues of more importance.
“I think some of the bigger issues we should be addressing first; things that will bring people together, not drive them apart — like addressing parking problems and occupancy issues,” Kordus said.
Also on his list of items to address is language relating to natural lawns, composting and creating a vacant home registry, among others.
Kordus said under the ordinance as proposed by Nebel, he estimates about 30 percent of the properties inside Stevens Point would be out of compliance. As a one-man department, enforcement isn’t practical, so he expects to handle ordinance violations on a complaint-driven basis.
“It causes problems in the winter because people will have to snow-blow, or shovel, a path to the side of their homes, or not park the car in the garage so they can put their [garbage] can in there,” Kordus said. “This would cause hardship for a lot of people.”
The proposed ordinance reads as follows:
Every owner or occupant of a premise or premise unit shall store and dispose of all rubbish in a clean, sanitary and safe manner. Recyclables and refuse shall not be visible from the street. Recyclable and refuse containers shall not be stored:
(1) between a public right-of-way and any face of a dwelling that faces such right-of-way, unless such right-of-way is an alley;
(2) stored on, under, or alongside of a front porch, stoop, landing, access ramp, or deck fronting on the public right-of-way;
(3) stored within the street-yard setback of any property; or
(4) stored within 15-feet of the public right-of-way except between 6:00 P.M. on the
day before collection and the end of the collection day.
Containers shall be stored with their lids completely closed. At properties where the configuration of the structure would create a hardship for compliance with this subsection, recyclable and refuse containers may be stored in the street yard setback if fully screened by a fence, wall, or landscaping and such screening is approved by the Director of Community Development.
The City Council is expected to make its final vote on the issue during the November Common Council meeting at 7 PM in the city’s courthouse. The public is welcome to attend and speak.