City won't add workers to reduce trash problem

September 09, 1994|By Harold Jackson | Harold Jackson,Sun Staff Writer

More workers may be necessary to collect all the trash and garbage that make some Baltimore neighborhoods look like pigsties, but city officials say there's no money to hire additional personnel.

"The problem is that the budget is what it is," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke says, "so we have to do better with the people we have. That means we have to increase citizen participation to make this a cleaner city."

George G. Balog, director of public works, says there has been a freeze on the city's general funds since Sept. 1. Department heads preparing budget proposals for next fiscal year have been told not to expect any improvement in funds.

The Bureau of Solid Waste this fiscal year received $56 million of the city's $1.98 billion operating budget.

"We are being tightened, funds are not plentiful," Mr. Balog says. "But I'm not going to let that stop me. I think with incentives we can get the current work force to do more, but we need the cooperation of the community."

While Mr. Balog would not go so far as to say the Bureau of Solid Waste must have more people, he concedes that the amount of trash handled by the bureau has increased while personnel levels have not significantly changed in years.

The mayor's comments mirrored Mr. Balog's in calling on residents to be more responsible for keeping their neighborhoods clean. But two weeks ago he aimed his anger over Baltimore's filth at the city's 36 sanitation supervisors.

Mr. Schmoke says the supervisors must issue more citations to violators of sanitation laws, and he gave them 60 days to show improvement.

Vanessa Pyatt, director of information services for the Department of Public Works, says the supervisors had issued 1,500 citations in the month of August. She says past records were not available.

"They were only issuing about a couple hundred a month at the beginning of the year," she says.

The increase in citations, however, appears to have provided only modest gains in some of the neighborhoods with critical trash problems. Many still see trash and garbage pile up hours after city collection and cleaning crews have made their runs.

Mr. Balog says bulk trash, old appliances, mattresses, sofas and other large items, are a particularly bad problem.

"There are 24 people assigned to the bulk trash trucks," Mr. Balog says. "They run 12 routes, which means the rotation is every four to six weeks."

The public works director says the shortage of bulk trash trucks and personnel has for the most part limited the city to responding to requests to pick up large items, rather than running the routes. But he says a continuing experiment has trucks patrolling one area and picking up whatever the crew on board sees.

"As we refine this, we have to decide if we need more personnel and better trucks," Mr. Balog says. "Those improvements will help us improve our rotation."

Mr. Balog says he has implemented a three-pronged plan to deal with the trash problem based on current personnel levels. It includes creating a separate division of cleaning within the Bureau of Solid Waste, with about 168 people assigned to it. Another 270 to 300 people will be assigned to trash collection.

"We want to take the framework that exists and enhance it," Mr. Balog says.

He says workers will be given incentives, including time off, to do a better job and disincentives for doing a poor one.

"If they drop something and people call, we will send that crew back. If they have to go back a couple of times, they're going to do their job better," says Mr. Balog.

In addition to placing a greater emphasis on cleaning, Mr. Balog says, his plan calls for more community involvement. He says recycling program block captains will be asked to encourage their neighbors to clean up and that cleanliness programs educating students will be increased.

Mr. Balog says the third component of his plan is tougher enforcement. He says officials are considering increasing fines in some cases above the $25 that can be levied now. "Our experience, though, is that once a person has been warned he complies. Ninety percent comply after the first warning," says Mr. Balog.

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