EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final story of a four-part series looking at trash issues in the city of Mansfield. The series began Monday by looking back more than 20 years, when the city got out of the municipal trash-hauling business. Part II examined current trash issues facing the city and Part III examined what Ohio cities of comparable size are doing.
MANSFIELD -- It's been almost two decades since any of Mansfield's laws regarding garbage collection and illegal dumping have changed.
In the interim, few would argue the city's trash woes have worsened, leading one local resident to refer to Mansfield as the "wild west" of trash -- a comment found in the Citizens' Agenda developed by Richland Source after conversations with residents last fall.
Multiple trash trucks may roll through a local neighborhood on a daily basis. Bags set out by the curb days in advance of being picked up are frequently ripped open by animals and the contents scattered.
Tires and other forms of illegal dumping are common events in certain areas of the city. Rental properties in which the tenants don't pay for trash service and simply fill the garage or basement with trash are a recurring problem, leaving the mess for someone else to clean out when they leave.
In fact, until Richland Source began reviewing the issue in January, there were a few private haulers operating within Mansfield who were not even licensed with the city, something that has been annually required for two decades.
Other cities of comparable size handle their trash issues differently and it now appears there is momentum on Mansfield City Council and in the mayor's office for change.
Part of that momentum may be driven by a changed council, pushing new ideas. Five of the eight voting members are brand new or in their first elected terms of office.
The questions are complex. What do residents want changed? What are they willing to pay for? And how bold will city leaders be in affecting change in an area that's been clearly identified as a priority in numerous public discussions?
UNLIKELY OPTIONS: Let's start with a couple of options that don't seem likely.
Mansfield got out of the municipal trash hauling business in 1998, largely for financial reasons. No one believes a return to that is financially possible.
Lancaster, in Fairfield County, spent more than $4 million on city trash hauling in 2019, including a sanitation department staffed with 23 employees and using six trucks. There is no money in Mansfield's budget to restart a sanitation department, purchase trucks, etc.
It also seems unlikely Mansfield will bid out city-wide trash hauling services to a single contractor, which is how several Ohio cities of comparable size handle it. Such contracts divide those cities into zones, meaning it's not "trash day" every day in a neighborhood.
Some of those cities, like Brunswick, bill property owners for the service and there simply is no opting out. If you own the property, you pay for weekly trash service.
But there are now at least seven private haulers licensed within the City of Mansfield and a city-wide contract could put the companies who don't get the contract out of business, or at least strain them financially.
"Free enterprise is pretty good," Mayor Tim Theaker told Richland Source. "A long time ago (when city hauling) was discontinued, I am sure (former Mayor) Lydia Reid did a lot of due diligence and decided free enterprise was a good idea ... keeping multiple companies in place."
Jean Taddie, the 6th Ward councilwoman who has championed the fight against trash, also doesn't think a single contractor is a good option.
"We have a number of trash hauling businesses ... that could put some of them out of business. We want to be mindful of that. Is there a middle road?" she asked.
At-large Councilman David Falquette said at least four local lawmakers are now working on options with the city's administration.
"I think all of council wants something better, but that will not include going back to city employees picking up garbage. A single hauler would be a quick fix to uniformity, but I like free enterprise too much and I want all the legal and licensed haulers to have an opportunity to provide service to the city of Mansfield," Falquette said.
Council President Cliff Mears also is opposed to a single-hauler contract.
"Trash hauling is done by private contractors. I would not change that as I believe a competitive environment for this service will save our residents money," he said.
OTHER OPTIONS: So what are the other options for improvement? Do the changes have to be sweeping in nature?
"I feel we can make some hefty (improvements) with small and incremental change," Taddie said. "We need to get everyone to the same table -- trash haulers, the solid waste district, health department, residents, landlords, people involved in charitable giving."
The simplest change would be for the city to start requiring trash be placed in hardened containers when it is taken to the curb, rather than just plastic bags. That's a common requirement found in other communities and seems to be a no-brainer.
Is it possible to construct a plan that allows for multiple private haulers that still allows for the city to be divided into zones?
"One of the biggest complaints (from residents) is how random the trash collection companies can be in terms of when trash is picked up," 4th Ward Councilman Alomar Davenport said.
"A constant complaint is every day seems to be pick up for someone. A proposal to create zones where each neighborhood has a pick up day can go a long way to addressing this issue. It will allow for citizens to still choose their hauler and not have pick up day every day on their street," Davenport said.
The city could also make trash service a requirement for property owners. There could be no opting out. All landlords, not tenants, for example, would be responsible for trash service.
In terms of illegal dumping, the city could begin a more strict enforcement of the ordinances it already has on the books. This would require bulking up codes and permits efforts and greater coordination with the law director's office and police department.
The penalties must be made harsher if the city wants to stop illegal dumping, other community officials have said. Some cities have made it a serious crime punishable by jail time, not just fines.
Taddie has said she has code enforcement on speed dial for the residents of her ward.
What would happen if that was the case for many more residents? Is the department sufficiently staffed to respond? And what would it cost, which is essential for a city that has a "flat" temporary budget in place for 2020?
"Codes and permits has been for years short-staffed and (has) limited funding. Given their daily challenges, I appreciate the work they do with the limited resources," said Jon Van Harlingen, 3rd Ward councilman who chairs both the finance and zoning committees.
Clearly, there is impetus for change for the first time in years in how Mansfield handles trash. Theaker and members of council said they are working on improvements.
Trash was clearly identified by Mansfield residents as a priority issue. The next few weeks and months will determine if the city's leaders are listening and what they plan to do about it.