Trash in Reading

READING, Pa. - The Reading City Council voted 5-2 Monday night to approve an ordinance that will require all properties with six residential units or fewer to participate in municipal trash services.

Councilwomen Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz and Melissa Ventura opposed the action.

The vote means the city administration will now be able to seek requests for proposals for a single trash hauler.

The city currently contracts with Republic Waste Services, but it gives residents the option of opting out to hire their own private trash haulers.

The current contract expires at the end of this year.

About 20% of city residents contract with private trash haulers.

The original ordinance, which was introduced in early June, made the requirement for properties with four or fewer residential units.

City Councilwoman Donna Reed introduced an amendment Monday to raise the number to six.

"It's my belief that many of our issues do emanate from rental properties," Reed said. "Those that have multiple units in a duplex are some of the causes of what is happening in the city."

Councilman Stratton P. Marmarou attempted to introduce another amendment that would limit municipal trash to the downtown area and allow outlying areas to continue to contract with private haulers. That amendment failed.

Marmarou has opposed the idea of municipal trash collection at every meeting since the ordinance was introduced, but he voted to approve the ordinance without any explanation.

"Check the districts to see where you have the trash problems," Marmarou said prior to the vote. "This is like police work; we go to where the things are taking place and that's what we're [currently] not doing."

Cepeda-Freytiz said the council rushed into the decision.

"I do believe we should have taken advantage of a one-year extension [of the current contract] to enforce what we haven't enforced in the past," Cepeda-Freytiz said. "There were so many things that we could have been doing now. We could have used this year as a pilot program to create an efficient trash program."

Council President Jeffrey Waltman strongly disagreed.

"This is the very last process that was ever rushed," Waltman said. "It's been kicked around, stopped and reorganized for 20 years. I know it's new to you (addressing Cepeda-Freytiz), but to the city, it's not new. We have to be able to move forward."

Councilwoman Lucine Sihelnik reminded the council that within the exit strategy for Act 47 for distressed cities, there was an opinion that pointed out that the city council deliberates issues too long, holding up decision-making.

The council accepted input from residents for the past month, including at a virtual town hall last week. In addition, the council heard from two residents before the vote.

Resident Ernest Herbein Schlegel encouraged the council to approve the ordinance.

"A single-stream hauler system has been adopted in hundreds of municipalities throughout the United States," Schlegel said. "The measure would be one more tool to combat illegal dumping."

Resident John Zatratz told the council that he has been frustrated by the entire process.

"I don't think you looked at it hard and it hasn't been fair," Zatratz said. "I will be forming a coalition to form a petition for a [voter] referendum. You should value the people that put you in office and listen to the voice of the residents."

Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace sent a written message to lend support to municipal trash.

"My support is based on our experience in the city of Lancaster after having made a similar change in 2006," Sorace said. "Before implementation, it was estimated the disjointed system [of 24 trash haulers] left as many as 4,000 residents without a contracted hauler. A decade later, illegal dumping has fallen dramatically and allowed us to redirect our resources to more proactive efforts."

Reed said the Reading City Council received more data from the administration than it ever had in the past.

"We have to make a decision and have political courage," Reed said. "It shouldn't even be much of an issue, because we are not going against what the majority believes in. It will be a slight hit for the private haulers, but remember that they do business throughout Berks County and beyond."

Mayor Eddie Moran said he introduced the idea of a single-hauler system as a part of his commitment to put all the people of Reading first, while placing politics aside.

"This initiative is one of many things that will take place to undertake the problem of trash in our community," Moran said.

In another matter, the council voted 4-3 to place a proposed amendment on the November ballot to eliminate the residency requirements for all heads of departments, offices and agencies, including the managing director.

Cepeda-Freytiz, Marmarou and Ventura favored retaining the residency requirement.

The city charter currently requires all city department heads to move into the city within one year of being appointed.

An alternate referendum question, which would have waived residency requirements only with the approval of city council, was defeated 4-3, with Cepeda-Freytiz, Marmarou and Ventura voting in favor.

Ceppeda-Freytiz argued that department heads should be completely invested in the city.

"It's [residency] a job requirement and every applicant should know what our standards are," she said. "We need to encourage and incentivize people to purchase properties. [Residency] is more of a guaranteed thing there will be more of a connection to the people in the city."

Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz said that eliminating residency with a waiver would be inconsistent.

"When you look at everything council has on its plate, looking at waivers would take so much time and will be inconsistent," she said. "It would never be a clear policy and we would get bogged down in unnecessary minutia."

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