Trashy situations; Garbage left as people leave.
SOUTHBRIDGE - Appalled that former next-door neighbors left a heaping amount of loose trash on the curb before they moved out of a rented Charlton Street apartment, Severina Rios wondered aloud on Thursday if the waste hauler would pick it up during trash day Friday.
It had been sitting there at least two weeks, Ms. Rios said.
Taking a break from gardening that afternoon, Ms. Rios said, "Of course it angers me. There's no need for that. It's disgusting."
The trash was gone the following day, but only after the landlord called Casella Waste Systems to arrange for a special pickup, according to Melissa Joyce, the Health Department's recycling coordinator.
The trash had been there for weeks on the order of the Health Department, which is implementing an enforcement program that involves steep penalties for offending property owners in this landfill community.
Beginning tomorrow, improperly prepared bulk trash left on the curb more than 24 hours will result in the owner being fined $250 for a first offense, $275 for a second offense and $300 for a third.
The bulk waste problem has gone on here for years and as of about six weeks ago, Casella Waste Systems picked up everything, Ms. Joyce said.
"If we didn't say anything, Casella would have continued picking up everything," she said. "How do you get a fair recycling rate?"
The town wishes to improve its recycling rate, which was 16 percent in 2008, according to state data.
The state average was about 30 percent that year, and state officials were hoping that communities obtained an overall recycling rate of at least 56 percent by this year.
The town's contract with Casella states that bulk waste of up to 2 cubic yards will be picked up if prepared correctly and when scheduled 48 hours in advance.
The Charlton Street pileup was at least double that amount. It contained loose wood that should have been bundled in barrels or bags, Ms. Joyce said.
An incident on Pine Street in recent weeks pushed the issue and prompted the new program, Ms. Joyce said.
Two tons of trash was found on the curb at 110 Pine St. With the town's health director on vacation that day, police and public works officials and the building inspector responded.
Ms. Joyce said officials went through the trash and found evidence some of it didn't belong to residents of the building. A police officer issued violations, DPW picked up the trash and a lien was put on the property.
Part of the problem with this property is it doesn't seem to have a responsible owner.
Public records list the owner as Brian T. Rickman of Marlboro, who said he surrendered the property in bankruptcy more than a year ago. The bank is being slow about their part, he said.
"It's really not my responsibility anymore, even though on paper it appears to be," Mr. Rickman said. "I have nothing to do with it."
Another unsightly pile sits in front of a set of multifamily homes on 7 Union St.
The town sent a certified letter Wednesday to property owner Micheal S. Kline of Needham, saying he had 48 hours from receipt of the notice to get the stuff picked up and provide a steel trash container for residents, Ms. Joyce said.
Mr. Kline's property isn't eligible for curbside service from the town because the parcel has three six-unit buildings, she said.
"When you take someone like that out of the program your recycling rate is going to be much better," Ms. Joyce said.
The problem, she said, is that residents are being permitted to leave out a lot of trash for so long. They continue to expect Casella to pick up anything, she said.
"When you look at it realistically from a financial sustainability position there's no way that after this landfill is closed that this town will be able to put as much trash on the sidewalk. There will be no way to pay for it," Ms. Joyce said.
Police Chief Daniel R. Charette offered Sgt. Carlos Dingui to help the Health Department get its program started.
The chief said the effort replicates an effective program in Somerville - a densely populated urban community of 4.1 square miles with 76,000 residents, more than four times as many residents as Southbridge.
"I just think if you have a decent regulation in place that focuses on the problem, it eliminates the need for more severe regulations," he said. "People police themselves."
He likened the plan to what the town did to help alleviate a problem with abandoned cars about a decade ago.
"Some people got into the habit where they knew if they just pushed the junk into the street, we'd pick it up, end of story," he said, adding that radios and tires stripped from cars left in parking lots were telltale signs.
At that time they had more than 160 abandoned cars, and now it's fewer than 30, he said.
ART: PHOTOS; CHART
CUTLINE: (1) Severina Rios, who was gardening outside her home next door, explained that people expect the trash trucks to take far more than they haul away. (2) On Cross Street, near the intersection with Union Street, the trash problem is also evident. (CHART0 Southbridge weekly curbside collection
PHOTOG: (PHOTOS) T&G Staff Photos/JIM COLLINS