|North Adams Public Safety Committee Mulls Trash Enforcement
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
02:13PM / Monday, October 16, 2023
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Inspection Services says it can cite property owners for trash nuisances but has little power to force their compliance.
"We do a lot of complaints regarding trash and rodents and garbage left outside for a long period of time," Health Inspector Heather DeMarsico told the Public Safety Committee recently. "A lot of the problem is that once we get to the point where they're not picking it up and we try to issue them a fine, my fines really mean nothing."
The matter of trash and an influx of rats seen in sections of the city was referred to Public Safety earlier this year. Committee Chair Bryan Sapienza said there have been resident complaints about the amount of trash left on properties and of rats and other vermin living in those piles.
"Also this time of the year, it's getting colder and the rodents are trying to find the places to nest and places to hide," he said, adding that he was also recommending an ordinance prohibiting feeding wildlife.
Building Inspector William Meranti agreed that putting out food encourages vermin.
"When we see these rat problems many, many times people are feeding birds during the day and they're feeding rodents at night and they don't understand that," he said, showing the committee members a video of rats feasting in a local birdfeeder.
DeMarsico said most owners of apartment properties will schedule for extra trash pickups when notified of problems. But some property owners just ignore warnings and citations.
"They can pretty much crumple up my paper and throw it away because they can still do business within the city without having to pay my fines," she said.
Meranti said the department ends up in a loop of orders and fines, compliance and non-compliance. The city can put a lien on a property if the owner doesn't pay the fines but those liens can sit for years and they require the city solicitor. Meranti said the inspectors used to be able to go to court on their own but now the court wants the city attorney to be present.
"It's just not financially feasible for the city to have the city solicitor involved in every single trash complaint," he said. "If we essentially had more teeth, and we could do it without that step of taking the city solicitor's time to bring this thing to court to get this. Quite frankly, I've never had success just flat out using our litter ordinance."
If someone doesn't pay their parking tickets or fines for moving violations, they can lose their driver's license and if someone doesn't pay their property taxes or water bill, they can be denied a building permit. Meranti queried if similar consequences could be used to enforce the litter ordinance.
Committee member Marie T. Harpin thought there should be more focus on education regarding trash disposal and feeding wildlife.
"Some people probably don't even know that there's a problem," she said. "So educating people and bringing everybody on board in the same frame of mind is always a good thing."
DeMarsico and Meranti agreed that education is good but noted some of the scofflaws are longtime violators.
"It's a hard subject to broach because we've had historic problems," Meranti said. "Since the day I got hired they're still in the same situation, they get better, they get worse, they get better, they get worse."
DeMarsico said an immediate help would be to change the ordinance from one trash container per apartment unit to "adequate" containers per unit because she has a hard time getting landlords and owners to purchase an additional receptacle.
"I think that would eliminate a lot of the overflow because we get a lot of overflow," she said. "It's the middle of the week, pickup isn't until Friday. ... They're putting the bags on the side, the animals are getting into them. It's getting strewn all over and no one wants to pick it up. No one wants to claim it."