'Complete cleanup' of Baltimore will follow 20-section battle plan

January 19, 1995|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore has a sweeping new battle plan to make the city cleaner.

The plan, the latest in a long-running war on trash, divides the city into 20 sections of about 9,500 homes apiece.

Beginning Feb. 1, each section will be invaded on a designated day every month by a small army of trash collectors, backed by a convoy of garbage trucks.

Next month, the city will target alleys, streets and vacant lots. In March, it will expand the monthly forays to include bulk trash and graffiti removal.

"We're going to do a complete cleanup," vowed George G. Balog, director of the city's Department of Public Works.

In nine areas where the plan was tested over the past few months, 1,533 tons of trash were collected -- twice the normal amount, he added.

As the city announced the plan, it also released a consultant's study recommending changes that would eliminate 297 of 852 positions in the department's Bureau of Solid Waste -- about 35 percent of the bureau's work force.

The changes would require $17 million for new equipment -- most of it for larger, more modern garbage trucks -- while saving $6 million annually in salaries, the study says.

Mr. Balog derided as impractical most of the cost-saving recommendations by the Towers Perrin consulting firm, and said other suggestions were already being implemented or are under consideration. But the head of a citizens group that obtained funding for half the $200,000 study -- the other half was paid for by the city -- said the recommendations have merit.

Baltimore's new cleanup plan comes just months after Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke declared he was fed up with city grime and threatened to fire sanitation supervisors if they did not begin handing out more citations to residents who dump trash in yards and alleys. "Everybody has got to get involved in making this the cleanest possible city," he said in August.

It also comes about a decade after then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, likening himself to Gen. George S. Patton, led sanitation crews on a march through city alleys and parks in a highly publicized "Assault on Trash."

According to the city's latest plan, special trash crews will be made up of 174 workers, supported by 49 dump trucks and 8 small backhoes.

Crews will spend the first week of each month in the southwest sections of Baltimore; the second week in the southeast, the third week in the northeast and the fourth week in the northwest.

The city's cleanup of vacant lots and debris now is "complaint-driven," Mr. Balog said, adding that the process is inefficient. The solid waste bureau will continue to respond to complaints, but complaints should drop considerably once regular monthly cleanups begin, he said.

Among the biggest changes for neighborhood residents could be the pickup of bulk trash items -- old refrigerators, broken furniture and the like. Now, residents must call to schedule a bulk trash pickup, which sometimes takes weeks. Under the new plan, bulk items will be picked up in neighborhoods one day each month.

"We'll still have call-ins," Mr. Balog said. "But we feel once this cycle takes place, people will stop calling in as much."

Fliers will be distributed to let residents know when crews will be in their neighborhoods, Mr. Balog said.

An additional 34 workers have been hired for the cleanup plan, he said, adding that their costs would be offset by savings in overtime paid to other workers.

The plan was made possible by the November reorganization of the bureau, he said. A maintenance division was created to clean streets, alleys and lots. Previously, those duties were handled by the collections division, which is responsible for curbside trash pickup.

The reorganization is among the recommendations made by the Towers Perrin report.

The report also called for the bureau to buy 90 side-loading trash trucks, at a cost of $11.2 million. The trucks would halve the number of trips to a dump site and would cut the number of workers by 161.

Mr. Balog said the city's narrow alleys and streets could not accommodate the larger trucks, which have twice the capacity of the city's current trash trucks.

But Daniel J. Loden, head of the Baltimore Homeowners Coalition for Fair Property Taxes, accused Mr. Balog of being "uncooperative" and too dismissive of the report.

"We think it's a possibility for some of the areas in the northern part of the city," said Mr. Loden, whose group obtained a $100,000 grant from the Abell Foundation to help fund the study.

The consultant's report also recommends reducing garbage pickups from twice to once a week, and replacing most street sweepers with mechanical equipment. It recommends that all recyclables be collected one day each week; currently, paper goods are collected one week, bottles and cans the next.

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