The city's Solid Waste Management Department is getting some help after city council approved on Wednesday, an $8 million contract to hire additional resources for the department. The city's been dealing with an excessive amount of bulk and junk waste and illegal dumping. City officials said it’s causing a big strain on its solid waste workers.
"We’re dealing with it, in many different parts," said Mayor Sylvester Turner. "And this is in addition to the solid waste team, so it’s just to try to assist, provide, and take some of the pressure off."
The three-year contract will provide the solid waste department with additional help with picking-up illegal heavy trash and junk waste. Turner said the city continues to spend millions of dollars to keep the city clean. In December 2022, the city approved $1.3 million for weekly litter abatement services for the solid waste department.
Turner said the city is trying to address an increase in trash that's accumulating throughout the city, especially illegal dumping, but the cycle of dumping and clean-up never seems to end.
"I have had solid waste go along one street and, I will say, more than 15 times, just like this week," he said. "I had them go out and clean up trash, three big piles of trash – and they have sent me pictures where they have cleaned it up every time – but I guarantee you a week or two later, it's right back again."
Turner said it's going to take more than the city, but also the residents to help keep the city clean.
The city has surveillance cameras across certain council districts to catch individuals and businesses that are illegally dumping. In 2021, the city doubled its fine from $2,000 to $4,000 for illegal dumping. District J Council Member Edward Pollard said the cameras could be utilized more effectively because a lot of dumping is occurring at night.
"I do think we need to be very intentional and strategic about placing cameras in hotspots and utilizing some of the money that we have to do that and not publicize where those cameras or those hotspots are."
Turner said an agenda item regarding more cameras will be presented soon along with other initiatives to address the dumping.
District I Council Member Robert Gallegos has been vocal in the past about the city getting more neighborhood depositories. The city currently only has six and he said his office is still getting calls from residents about the long lines at the depositories or how full the bins are which could pressure residents to illegally dump.
Now, with the city approving multiple contracts for the solid waste department, At-Large Member Sallie Alcorn said she would like to see a breakdown of how much the city is actually spending every year on the department – especially with the city transitioning to a new "Outcome-Based" Budgeting Style.
"It’s a lot of extra contracting, which I’m all for, because we need the help," she said. "I’d like to see all the contracts over an annual basis [of] how much we’re spending above and beyond the general fund."
At-Large Council Member Letitia Plummer suggested that the city investigate why people dump. She said there could be potential reasons like cost or access and maybe the city can find a solution to their problem.
"It’d be very interesting to see the people that are caught if we just asked them, you know, what is the reason why you do this," she said.
Mayor Turner said there are many reasons why people dump, but the city is taking action on getting the issue under control. Turner said he’s considering an initiative, similar to his "One Safe Houston” crime strategy, to address the illegal dumping in the city.