City council raises garbage bills to cover cleanup cost

an underpass area marked for cleanup

The City Council voted Feb. 20 to raise garbage bills for Beaumont residents in order to offset the cost for trash pickup the city is taking over from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

Community and council members have been complaining about the trash and debris around Beaumont and in the TxDOT right-of-ways along highways. When mowers contracted by TxDOT failed to pick up trash prior to mowing a right-of-way last year, they scattered the garbage all over the place, with bits blowing into the road and onto the grass covering the right-of-way. A chagrined council decided to put TxDOT to task, asking the agency to clean up the trash before mowing and to give Beaumont right-of-ways more attention. Beaumont City Manager Kyle Hayes reported during a work session Jan. 29 that TxDOT only mows the Beaumont right-of-ways three times a year and does not pick up the trash very often, either. He and his administration recommended the city take over the trash pickup and mowing.

During the same work session, he estimated that the startup cost of the endeavor, including the purchase of mowers, tractors, a truck, a trailer and other equipment, would be approximately $215,000, a one-time expense that could come out of the capital reserve fund. He said the city would start with three full-time employees and two part-time employees, which would cost about $200,000 per year, plus another $50,000 would be required for annual maintenance and fuel.

In order to pay for the project, Hayes suggested raising the “litter control fee” on utility bills. Some citizens balked at the proposal. Beaumont resident Vernon Durden said his bills “keep going up.”

“It’s ridiculous,” he remarked following the work session.

But the majority of City Council members decided the trash is even more ridiculous.

Hayes brought the matter to the City Council for a vote this past Tuesday, Feb. 20. Rather than raising the litter removal fee, proposed Hayes, they could eliminate it altogether and raise residents’ monthly garbage and trash collection fee from $17.00 to $18.25. The majority of households pay about 50 cents for the litter removal fee, so the estimated increase per household would be 75 cents, according to the city manager. The change in the city’s Code of Ordinances would result in approximately $290,000 in additional annual revenue, more than enough to cover the projected costs of the mowing and trash pickup.

During the Jan. 29 work session, Hayes explained that TxDOT has long been aware of the city’s concerns and has refused to improve its cleanup efforts or increase the frequency of mowing, at least partially due to the expense. Hayes asserted that he is confident city staff would do a much better job.

Feb. 20, the city voted in favor of raising the monthly garbage and trash collection fee. Ward 2 Councilman Mike Getz was the lone naysayer.

Homeless trash pickup?

Along with mowing the right-of-ways that were once TxDOT’s responsibility, Hayes said he would also like to employ workers to pick up trash in those locations. At the Jan. 29 work session, Ward 3 Councilman Audwin Samuel suggested employing homeless people to do the job, like some other Texas cities have done.

“I thought it would be worth looking at,” Samuel suggested.

Hayes agreed that he would look into it.

The Examiner visited a homeless camp under the Interstate 10 bridge at MLK in Beaumont and spoke to resident George Lelux. He said he and others who live there have been picking up trash at the right-of-way and at the camp under the bridge. He said city code enforcement graciously provides bags, and his pickup crew places the bags on the curb for collection each Tuesday. He said he wants to remain at the location and is doing everything he can to keep it clean so they don’t get kicked out. He indicated he would jump at a chance to make some money picking up trash in the right-of-ways.

“I would love the opportunity to pick up trash for the city,” said Lelux. “Living out here on the streets ain’t easy. If they’d give us the opportunity, we’d take it.”

Feb. 13, Beaumont resident Dayna Rothenberger approached the podium to report she had spoken to Lelux and others at the camp, who were low on trash bags. Councilwoman Jordan and Mayor Becky Ames both offered to chip in for trash bags when Rothenberger said she was going to the store to get them. Feb. 20, they handed her cash to help purchase extra bags so Lelux and friends could keep up their efforts.