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Willmar, Minn., mayor to appoint task force to study downtown garbage problem

Complaints by downtown business people about garbage include overflowing containers and trash sitting on the ground next to sidewalks, as this photo taken Feb. 17 shows. (Submitted photo by Stephen Deleski)

WILLMAR -- Stephen Deleski says he's sometimes unable to enjoy the deck at his home above his downtown business because the smell from overflowing garbage containers in the neighborhood is unbearable.

When the northeast wind picks up, Deleski says, the smell is nauseating and they have to go inside.

Deleski, owner of West Central Printing, and others have complained recently to city officials about garbage storage and collection in the central business district. Deleski believes the biggest problems are collection frequency and container size. He said if collection frequency was increased, the size of the containers could be reduced.

Deleski showed the City Council on Monday night 21 photos he took during the past winter and spring of smaller and Dumpster-sized containers sitting in alleys and parking lots next to downtown buildings and sidewalks.

Deleski said a common occurrence is seeing food waste and garbage sitting on the ground or piled on top of containers, or piled high inside with the covers open, allowing rain and animals to enter. Some photos showed snow piled on top and around the containers. He said nobody cleans the snow away and garbage is thrown on top of the containers.

During his discussion, Deleski alluded to an award Willmar earned last week from the League of Minnesota Cities for achieving certain environmental sustainability goals in the GreenStep Cities program, and the council's support for downtown gateway concepts.

Prior to Deleski's discussion, the council was presented the GreenStep award from Andrew Bjur who represented Willmar at the League of Minnesota Cities conference where the award was announced and who is coordinating the city's GreenStep efforts.

Also, the council voted to support a Public Works/Safety Committee recommendation to approve three downtown gateway design concepts and to initiate plans for funding and final design.

"A lot of conversations tonight are improving our city green-scape and everything, yet we have these blights upon our city,'' Deleski said. "We could probably write ordinances until they come out our ears. But until somebody starts enforcing things, and what do you do in a situation where we have a parking lot that's probably shared by five different businesses?''

As a result of the complaints, the council directed Mayor Frank Yanish to appoint a task force to study and offer recommendations for improved storage and collection.

"If we're going to spend the money on the entrances to downtown, we have to have something for the people that are entering downtown to look at that's desirable,'' Yanish said.

Deleski and Roger Olson of Diamond Vogel Paints store had earlier voiced their concerns to the council's Community Development Committee at its June 27 meeting.

Olson told the committee he sees garbage pile up across the street in the alley and in the lot behind the store. Olson said he has been corresponding with the corporate office about relocating the store.

The big issues seem to be the smell during the summer and garbage piling up and blowing around in the winter.

Committee members asked how ordinances and municipal code can be enforced more easily and successfully. City staff said enforcement is a challenge because exterior storage violations are petty misdemeanors, though municipal code violations are misdemeanors.

Council member Jim Dokken said the problem needs fixing. He said the city is talking about gateways, and Dokken said a long-term business person indicates he may look for a new location.

"That's a pretty significant comment and it speaks to something ... that we need to fix this and we need to fix it right,'' he said.

Council member Ron Christianson said the garbage issue is raised every so many years and usually by Deleski.

Four years ago, Deleski discussed with the council the problem of downtown renters placing their household garbage in public-access bins purchased by Main Street Willmar. A suggestion was made to reduce the size of the openings to allow only small trash like soda cans.

Christianson said people living downtown need to realize they are harming their neighbor.

"I'm not sure what the answer is, but it isn't a garbage problem. It's a people problem. It's people that will put up with garbage in their back yard and they don't have any feelings for the neighbor. Somehow that needs to be addressed,'' he said.

Council member Tim Johnson suggested the community service officers who enforce downtown parking also enforce the garbage ordinance. He suggested a task force be created to review and revise ordinance and enforcement procedures.

Suggested task force topics are higher fines, container size, container screening, bagging of waste, frequency of pickup, and community service officer enforcement.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150