Trash Talking in Herndon

Trash Talking in Herndon

In its infancy, the Town of Herndon "Can It" campaign, launched in 2000, lacked muscle as residents in violation of trash ordinances were merely given a warning.

A current proposal before the Town Council would allow for the assessment of a $25 "special collection fee for improperly placed or improperly contained solid waste or recyclables involving a pick-up outside of the regular schedule."

But, as the familiar saying goes, "haste makes waste," the council is re-evaluating the potential ordinance to make sure it’s not "too Draconian," said councilman William "Bill" Tirrell, Sr.

The concern by town staff is that townhouse and apartment communities are too often improperly placing trash in inappropriate places and not placing trash in acceptable receptacles.

Town of Herndon Public Works director Albert "Ron" Colan said the purpose of the 2000 "Can It" campaign was to "enhance the appearance of neighborhoods" and protect trash collectors from potentially dangerous items. Trash cans are required to have lids on them and contain bagged trash.

In 2001, the campaign included door hangers in English and Spanish outlining the rules and containing a schedule of trash pick up days with a penalty schedule for homeowners associations for trash left in common areas.

This year, the ordinance has been expanded to call for a fee assessment for special collection pick up after three warning notices are left.

However, both supporters and detractors of the ordinance have raised many questions since the Feb. 19 Town Council work session.

"I drove around last week to see for myself that the problem clearly exists," said Councilman Harlon Reece. "Many folks simply are not complying with the ‘Can It’ program."

REECE, a supporter of the concept, said instances occur that the ordinance does not address well, such as the discarding of old mops, brooms and fluorescent tubes. "Such items are better off in a can than on the ground, but I don’t believe the taxpayers should hold on to these items for spring or fall pick up," said Reece, suggesting that homeowners associations get involved. He also supported idea of bringing the ordinance back to the next work session before making a final decision.

"We’re not doing this as a revenue generator, but as a behavior modifier," said Councilman Michael O’ Reilly, comparing fee assessment to that of a fine for having a taillight out on one’s vehicle. If the driver provides proof of the light having been fixed, the fine is typically waived. O'Reilly said that the town should perhaps consider waving the fee for residents who provide proof of purchase of a trash can with lid.

"I’m concerned," said Tirrell. "If the problem is predominantly in townhouse communities, we’ve taken a bureaucratic turn. A solution is to do this, in ordinance, regarding townhouses. Let’s go in with a scalpel instead of a chainsaw," he said.

Councilman Dennis Husch suggested an amendment calling for "a trash can with a lid or a trash can containing properly sealed, plastic-bagged trash."

Mayor Carol Bruce disagreed, supporting the measure. "This ordinance was derived out of a walk taken over three years ago. There was trash in the common areas in plastic bags," she said. "It blows around and animals can get to it. It’s visual pollution and a health hazard."

Bruce added that it was also a safety issue for trash collectors. "There may be needles," she said. "That’s a serious problem. The way to prevent that is by keeping the trash in a trash can. Lids prevent piling leading to trash eventually falling over,"

"We’re leaning toward a little too much government in our personal life," said Connie Hutchinson of Herndon, who recently announced her candidacy for the Town Council. "This trash can issue; have to have a lid or be fined. I think we’re micro-managing. That’s a bad thing when doing that to private citizens."