City can deal with trash

August 12, 2008 11:00 pm

Baker City has on its books an ordinance that prohibits, quite explicitly, city residents from leaving food scraps and other sorts of household trash lying about their homes and businesses.

We don't think the city needs to add to that ordinance a requirement that every property owner pay the city's garbage collector to haul away their swill at least once per month.

The existing ordinance, which has been in place since 1959, is sufficiently stringent to deal with people who let their places degrade into rubbish heaps.

We're pleased, then, that the City Council decided Tuesday night to not mandate that every home and business pay for garbage collection from the city's lone franchisee — the privately owned Baker Sanitary Service.

Tuesday's agenda included a work session during which councilors were slated to look over an ordinance from Seaside that includes such a provision.

The concept is not without merit.

We don't want trash piling up in the city, either, and city officials are obligated to try to prevent such problems.

But we don't see how a Seaside-style ordinance would be more effective in curbing trash problems than Baker City's current ordinance would be were the city to aggressively enforce it.

Worse still, ordering residents and business owners to sign up with Baker Sanitary Service would punish people who strive to produce as little trash as possible, as well as create an unnecessary hassle for city officials.

Baker City's current ordinance, No. 2498, states: "Refuse shall not be allowed to be accumulated or maintained on any premises in such manner so as to tend to create a fire, health, or sanitation hazard."

Anyone who violates the ordinance could be fined up to $100, or sentenced to up to 30 days in jail, or both.

Those punishments are powerful incentives to encourage people to dispose of their trash regularly, whether by paying Baker Sanitary Service or by hauling the stuff on their own to the company's landfill about five miles southeast of town.

Seaside's approach might seem to offer an even simpler solution — if residents must pay for garbage service, then they'd have no reason to let the stuff accumulate and thus violate the ordinance.

But we think one $100 fine would persuade most people to pony up $15 per month to have Baker Sanitary Service empty a roll cart once a week.

What bothers us most about the Seaside system, though, is that its universal mandate applies not only to slobs, but also to people who have figured out how to get rid of their garbage without paying Baker Sanitary Service to do the work.

Some people recycle most of their trash and put what's left in a friend's roll cart. Some drive their debris to the landfill.

Had Baker City councilors decided to change the ordinance they could have, as Seaside does, include a provision allowing people to ask the city manager for an exemption due to financial hardship.

But we don't think the city manager's duties should include trying to decide whether someone can afford $15 per month.

To reiterate, Baker City's current ordinance is serviceable.

If someone lets garbage accumulate, then the city should enforce the ordinance.

As for people who can handle their trash without burning it or resorting to other illegal means, the city has no reason to demand they pay for a service they don't need.

Based on what we see around town, the vast majority of the eyesores consist not of the household trash. Most messes are made up of a variety of items which, though unsightly to some people's eyes, do not unequivocally create, as the ordinance puts it, "a fire, health, or sanitation hazard."

A lot of that stuff won't fit in a roll cart, anyway.