Continued Illegal Dumping Infuriates Commissioner

It takes plenty for Commissioner Phillip Walker to get riled up. But one thing has really gotten to him: the loads of trash Walker sees dumped around the city. During a teleconference meeting on Friday, Walker mounted a passionate argument that it’s got to stop.

“Houston, we have a problem,” he said, and not to deaf ears. He said it was a continuing saga, like “Days of Our Lives.”

Walker showed commissioners three photos of illegally piled trash.“Who would want to live around that kind of stuff?” he asked.

One of his biggest irritations is old tires that are illegally dumped, Walker said, noting that when you buy tires at a tire installation outlet, they charge you a fee for proper disposal.

He said the trash problem is scattered throughout the city, but particularly in blighted areas. “Why does it have to be in a blighted area?” Walker asked.

“Because they can get away with it,” Mayor Bill Mutz said.

 “This makes me see red,” Mutz said. “I love being as punitive as necessary.”

Commissioners praised the city staff’s efforts to limit dumping.

Brian Rewis, assistant director of community and economic development, said the trash piles make him see red, too.

Everyone sees the problem. But Rewis said fixing it is another matter.

Rewis said there is no “one-size-fits-all” cure, “no silver bullet” to fix the problem. He said coronavirus has put a damper on the city’s efforts, despite the city’s unveiling of a new strategy on Feb. 28, weeks before coronavirus precautions limited public gatherings.

“We haven’t had a code enforcement meeting since May,” Rewis said. 

He said landlords, who are often the victims of dumping,  put piles of stuff left behind near the street when they evict tenants. 

The problem, Rewis said, is property owners have 15 days to correct a code violation, and by then people pile more trash onto the original pile.

“Fifteen days is a lifetime” in code enforcement, Rewis said. 

He said city refuse collectors are limited to rights of way close to streets when collecting. In addition, much of the dumping occurs on property that doesn’t have a contract for trash pickup.

Rewis said more hands may be needed in a concerted effort to do better, including the Lakeland Police Department and solid waste department. He said it could take a “modest” funding increase. 

If the city caught more violators, it would serve as an example, Rewis said.

Walker said the discussion Friday shouldn’t be the end of the conversation.