EDITORIAL: Time has come from city to make property owners responsible for ensuring trash collection

Published 7:19 pm Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Ever since the city privatized garbage collection, about half the city residents haven’t signed up for it. The ramifications of that situation are hard to comprehend until you start driving around Selma and see what that means on the streets. Even if you could overlook the litter, it’s impossible to ignore the illegal dumps that have popped up throughout the city. Selma has a garbage problem and city government must find a solution to this public health emergency.

According to the numbers from Sea Coast Disposal, the current garbage vendor of choice, there are almost 3,200 residences with garbage service in Selma. There are an estimated 6,000 residences in the city.

Sea Coast Disposal is the second vendor the city has contracted with since privatizing garbage collection. The first vendor, Advanced Disposal Services, canceled its agreement with the city because of a similar situation – too much cost and too little revenue. Sea Coast renegotiated its original agreement, adding higher fees to those using the service but has had collection issues. And the city had the same issues when it handled garbage collection, with more than $500,000 in uncollected garbage fees that, as far as we know, are still owed.

Councilwoman Miah Jackson recently quoted Census figures stating 50 – 60 percent of Selma residents reside in rental property. The city has tried, and failed miserably, at making tenants responsible for paying for garbage collection. Renters move from house to house frequently, making the enforcement of the city’s ordinance requiring garbage service at all occupied dwellings nearly impossible to enforce.

Earlier this year, the city council tried to reach a compromise. The new ordinance required property owners to submit to the city a list of all their tenants to prove they had garbage service. However, only six landlords did what was required, which only accounted for about 140 renters.

Requiring property owners to be responsible would make enforcement much easier. The city’s code enforcement would then only have to look up property records rather than try to track down who is renting the property in any given month. If the dwelling doesn’t have service, the property owner can be given a warning and then cited and brought to court if the violation continues.

In a perfect world, tenants would step up and take responsibility for making sure they have their own garbage service. After all, they are the ones creating the garbage.

But we don’t live in a perfect world. Holding landlords responsible would fix the problem, which outside of public safety and infrastructure, is the most pressing in the city today.

However, tenants should plan on their rent going up. Landlords aren’t going to shoulder this burden out of the goodness of their hearts, and no one would expect them to.

And in fairness to property owners, they should not have to pay for garbage service if their property is unoccupied, but their needs to be proof required, and fines levied, for landlords who try to skirt this requirement.

One thing to note is that Section 8 housing, which covers a sizeable amount of renters in the city, already includes money reserved for garbage service as part of rent. If property owners haven’t been using that money for garbage collection, this change would make sure that happens.

Certainly there is much more detail to iron out on the way to resolving this issue, but one thing is not up for debate, and that is this city has to be cleaned up – one way or another.