Trash-fee tradeoff: Junked parks

In today’s Daily News, I wrote about the city’s flaky handling of the trash-fee question, which Mayor Nutter has answered with a decision to forgo a tax for the time being.

He said the timing wasn’t right and that the notion hadn’t been fully developed.

This was a great decision. Not just because we all deserve a thorough, well-considered plan if we’re to pay additional taxes for something that ought to be a given – i.e., public sanitation services.But because of the damage that a half-baked plan might potentially do to Fairmount Park.

In researching the column, I spoke with Lauren Bornfriend, head of the Philadelphia Parks Alliance, to discuss with her a notion that had been nagging at me ever since the trash-tax idea was floated:

If the city makes it more difficult or expensive to get rid of our trash, the trash will show up in our parks.

Bornfriend didn’t want to discuss specifics about a trash tax (she was more focused on coaxing good candidates to apply for membership on the Fairmount Park Commission, before yesterday’s application deadline passed).

But she did say that dumping remains a huge problem in the Park. Bags and bags of garbage find their way into our green spaces there, dumped off the main roads, into ravines, at the bottom of hills. You name the place, it’s been desecrated by trash.

“Philadelphians have a bizarre relationship with trash,” she says. “Why they won’t wait until trash day to put it at the curb is beyond me. When they want to get it out of the house, they just get it out of the house,” she says.

Short-dumping is also a big problem. One small-time contractor I spoke with said he has paid city sanitation workers extra money, straight out of his wallet, to haul off construction debris that wouldn’t normally be accepted by the city for disposal.

“It’s routine,” he says. “If you don’t have enough trash for a dumpster, you can always find a trash worker to pay off. Where they take it, I don’t know.”

In my own neighborhood, you can always find a small-time entrepreneur with a  truck who will haul away large items – torn sofas, broken picnic tables, old dishwashers, you name it – for a flat fee.

I suspect some of it finds its way into the park. Don’t believe me? Drive down some of the park’s more remote roads and see for yourself.

I think the city could run a successful trash-fee program. But it needs to be well-thought-out, user-friendly and fair to all citizens.

Otherwise, people looking to avoid the fee will dump their trash in the park – or any other remote place where, under cover of night, we won’t see them do the deed.