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Published:November 28th, 2006 08:22 EST
Morgantown Garbage Service

Morgantown Garbage Service

By Michael Costello

For Woody Sweeney, walking to class from his McLane Avenue apartment is quite routine, each day passing the same houses and street signs, sometimes seeing many of the same people.  What has also become routine for Sweeney is the daily encounter with the litter that covers the streets and sidewalks of Sunnyside, a primarily student-neighborhood, where hundreds of households are not registered for garbage pickup.   

“There’s trash everywhere,” Sweeney said. “It’s pretty disgusting.”

The Sunnyside garbage situation is one of several trash-collection issues facing Morgantown City Council.  

The issue arose at a November Committee of the Whole meeting when Jeff Harvey, General Manager of Allied Waste approached City Council, asking for approval of a proposed rate increase of $1.50 per month on residential service.  Harvey said the proposed increase was necessary in order to keep up with rising costs.  He added that even with the proposed increase, overall fees in Morgantown would be among the lowest in the state.  

Discussion about the increase was overshadowed by Council's concerns with current waste-management problems in Morgantown, especially in Sunnyside, with members proposing several possible solutions, each subject to intense debate.  

It was apparent, however, that City Council would not grant Harvey the go-ahead for a fee increase under the current trash pick-up conditions. 
"I do not support an increase, CPI - any increase until we get better service," Mayor Ron Justice said.   

Councilman Don Spencer said that while other college towns often have similar problems with waste collection, they are not as bad as those in Morgantown.  Spencer also expressed frustration with missed pick-ups elsewhere in the city, inconsistent communication with Allied Waste customer service and poor execution of recycling management, saying that ultimately the city is accountable for waste collection.   

"We are responsible and we cannot see our responsibilities getting met," Spencer said. "What we need is some solution that's going to address the problem systemically." 

Complicating the Sunnyside trash situation is a number of unpaid locations.  Harvey said that on 14 targeted streets in the neighborhood, 171 locations had not signed up as fee-paying customers, leaving collectors unsure of which trash to gather and resulting in lost revenue for Allied Waste.   

Solutions ranged from leaving landlords solely responsible to tying trash fees with those of other utilities such as water service. 

Councilman Bill Byrne indicated that refusal to collect garbage at unpaid locations would force the issue to a public nuisance, giving authorities more options for fee collection and enforcement of regulations. 

"The only method I see is to bring this to a head, to say, 'Hey if you don't pay, we're not picking it up," Byrne said.  

City Council amended the trash ordinance in September of 2005, deeming Sunnyside the “high density student rental trash district,” and altering service, hoping to eliminate bags or cans on the street. 

Harvey pointed to the difficulty in assigning responsibility for trash-collection fees.  In some cases, tenants are responsible for paying collection fees while property owners sometimes incur the costs.  Under both scenarios, however, collection fees often go unpaid. 

"Some of the owners we contacted in the past have said, 'it's the tenant's responsibility,'" Harvey said. 

Sweeney, a wildlife and fisheries management major from Queen Shoals said his household splits a yearly fee of approximately $180 among three tenants.   The trash goes in a small dumpster shared with several other apartments in the same building.  He said that while pickup from the dumpster seems to be efficient on a weekly basis, trash is often left at the receptacle's side, overflowing into the street, and going untouched by collectors.   

"As far as the streets, it's still trashy," he said. "There's no crew to come take care of that." 

Harvey reminded Council that the proposed rate increase was unrelated to any lost revenue from unpaid customers. 

"If I had 100-percent signup I'd still be asking for the same price increase," he said.

However, Council members were not phased For Woody Sweeney, walking to class from his McLane Avenue apartment is quite routine, each day passing the same houses and street signs, sometimes seeing many of the same people.  What has also become routine for Sweeney is the daily encounter with the litter that covers the streets and sidewalks of Sunnyside, a primarily student-neighborhood, where hundreds of households are not registered for garbage pickup, sharing the same concerns of Sweeney and his neighbors, giving Allied Waste the mandate to improve its service to Morgantown before expecting further support from the city.

"We have to see to it that the job gets done." Spencer said.