Trash, go pick it up…

Apparently the day I left town for vacation all hell broke loose on the Ypsilanti garbage front. No sooner had I arrived on the west coast last week than I began receiving emails and texts from people alerting me to the fact that our downtown thoroughfares, thanks to a change in City policy, were quickly filling with garbage. One person who wrote to me was especially concerned about a specific “wall of trash”, as he thought that it might topple over on top of people as they enjoyed the festivities surrounding the grand opening of Go Ice Cream’s “ice cream alley” off of Washington Street. Here’s just one of the many photos that was forwarded to my attention as I traveled with my family across the Mojave Desert in search of gila monsters.

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As I just recently became a building owner downtown, I’m not altogether clear on the history, but, it would seem that, up until last week, the enclosed dumpsters situated around downtown were historically made available to both business owners and those living in the lofts above said businesses. For some reason that I’m still not quite sure of, though, this changed a last week, and now downtown residents are being encouraged to arrange for their own garbage pickup and put their trash out on the curb, like those of us living in the surrounding neighborhoods do.

While what I said above about not knowing why this is happening is technically true, I suspect, as with most things, it has to do with money. As I understand it, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), which is funded through taxes collected within the downtown business district, had, until recently, earmarked some of their budget for garbage collection, making it possible for the enclosed downtown dumpsters to remain open and available to all. And, as I believe the City has been more actively involved in the operations of the DDA as of late, my guess is that perhaps a decision was made, given how tight the City budget is these days, to use that money elsewhere. Again, that’s just a guess, but it’s the narrative that makes the most sense to me, and it would explain why business owners starting last week were being charged to access these dumpsters, and why those living in the area were told to make other arrangements.

Regardless of how the decision was made to transition to curbside pickup for downtown residents, we need to find a solution that doesn’t jeopardize the viability of our downtown businesses. So, how do we do that? I’m not interested in seeing anyone fired, or driving anyone from office, but, based on the photos I’ve seen, something clearly needs to be done. If Ypsilanti is going to be successful, we can’t have rotting, fly-covered garbage stacked up in front of our bars and restaurants, festering in the August heat, just feet away from where people are eating ice cream and drinking beer.

When I first posted this, just a few hours ago, I asked what I thought was a simple question. “Why, if the DDA no longer wants to cover the costs,” I asked, “can’t downtown landlords contribute as well, and give their tenants access to these same dumpsters?” As 90% of the lofts downtown are owned by the same two or three people, I thought, this might be a reasonable solution… Well, I received the following message from a downtown landlord in response to that suggestion.

“I got a letter from the DDA saying they were cutting us off from the dumpsters unless we started paying. The DDA proposed charging another downtown landlord and me $975 per month for the use of the dumpsters. We called WM and got a quote for $120 a month. But then the DDA said that we couldn’t hire WM without installing a $8,500 dumpster enclosure like the ones they current have. And then there’s the issue that none of our properties have the room necessary for an enclosure. So what the other landlord did was provide her residents 20+ trash cans, which quickly overflowed and started smelling up the place. I haven’t done anything yet because I am just stunned. All building owners pay for trash anyway, so why don’t they just use that money to pay for the dumpsters?”

So, what are we going to do about this? Is it possible to charge landlords less for dumpster access? Or, how about this… what if we just go back to the system the way that it was, and have the DDA cover the cost? …Oh, that’s right, we failed to pass the millage, so there’s no money in the budget, so we’re forced to shift money away from garbage collection to things like public safety, so that the precious few dollars that we do have can be spent paying down the Water Street debt so that we can keep the Emergency Manager at bay.

[The above post was brought to you by The New York Dolls.]

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26 Comments

  1. Posted August 3, 2016 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    I should add that the above photo was taken a few feet away from Bona Sera’s outdoor tables.

  2. Andrew Clock
    Posted August 3, 2016 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    If we’re going to divert the DDA’s funds elsewhere let’s just be upfront about it. Disband it or don’t. If the DDA is going to continue to exist, why aren’t they working to resolve this issue through funding or negotiations with property owners in the district? Isn’t that why cities have DDA’s?

    If the dumpster fees are anywhere near what I’ve heard, they’re counter productive. ($25 for residents, $50 for businesses each month? Is that true? Republic advertises cheaper home services) It has to be affordable, and probably mandatory. I actually thought there was an ordinance governing who could and couldn’t use curbside pickup, What happened to that? In Depot Town, I hear the business cover the cost among themselves, was that on the table downtown?

    There’s got to be a better solution. Hopefully someone can shed light on how we got here.

  3. Ypsi
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    Let’s find a solution that works. We are better than this.

  4. ypsidoodledandy
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    I was stunned earlier this year when the city took over all the functions of the former executive director of the DDA, thus saving DDA about $50,000/year out of the DDA budget of $90,000/year (as I recall, rough numbers). The job functions of the director were parceled out among something like eight different city departments and a city intern was put in charge of coordinating things.

    I was shocked because the council/mayor had spent most of 2015 dickering about whether to renew the DDA assessment/millage, and if so, at what level. 2 months after resolving that by renewing the assessment for another 20 (?) years, they announced they just found $50,000/year in new money for DDA by eliminating the director position. I don’t own anything in the DDA assessment district, but if I did I would have been very upset–if parceling out the job to the city was a viable solution, why was that not discussed during the assessment renewal process they spent a year on? Not a peep. I also thought it was unfair to drop the extra work on the current city employees.

    Anyway, $50,000 a year in brand new money should cover some garbage pickup, no? Especially if DDA was prior covering that out of their exisiting budgets in 2015 and earlier?

  5. Dan
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Soon, this will just be another realness that makes Ypsi so authentic and cool.

  6. Megan
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    How blind am I? I ride my bike downtown to and from the transit center four days a week and i haven’t seen any trash bags stacked on sidewalks. ??

    And now might be a good time to remind the people that this is affecting to take advantage of the problem and work on cutting down on how much trash they generate in the first place. I am one person, not a family of four, so i understand that i would have to multiply my trash x 4 to see the same amount, but still. I put out trash once a month if that, and when i do it’s one bag and is mostly filled with cat litter. (But Megan, you’re weird!! You use reusable bags and shop in bulk!) Damn straight.

  7. Adam Gainsley
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    This is not new. This was not a surprise to anyone. Piling trash up like this on the curb is landlords lashing out because they are no longer being provided free trash service.

    The DDA built the enclosures and started providing free trash service at one point based on grant money and help from a couple local business owners. When the grant money ran out the DDA continued to provide this service for free despite the fact that it was not a healthy/manageable financial line item in their budget (I am on the DDA board but say ‘they’ because this was before my time).

    Fast forward to today. The cost of maintaining the dumpsters and service is over $25k/year. There is literally no way the DDA can cover this cost. We simply do not have the money and would very quickly dry up our reserves if we continued even if we eliminated all other eligible expenditures. The idea that we ‘found’ $50k which should cover this is incorrect for a couple reasons. I won’t go into deep detail here (all our budget and financial doc’s are public) but basically we did end up with a much lower cost on our executive management but we also lost far more revenue.

    Landlords around town have been given ample notice that this was coming. They have participated in many meetings too. Not only has this been on the agenda of the majority of DDA board meetings over the last year or more, we’ve also had special meetings to discuss this with landlords directly. All of that is in addition to a very comprehensive letter and door knocking effort by staff.

    Also, Mark, I have to take exception to the tone of this article. All the information you needed is publicly available. I am not hard to get ahold of and I think you know that I’m on the DDA. Additionally I know for a fact that it is not at all hard to get ahold of anyone on staff (granted this is a new development since the staff changeover but it’s true!). I love your blog and am always more than happy to chat to make sure your articles are complete and informative instead of inflammatory based on unfounded guesses.

    -Adam Gainsley
    DDA Treasurer

  8. Adam Gainsley
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    One note on my comment above – I do see that the fee schedule doesn’t appear to be up on our website yet. It has been distributed to landlords and other stakeholders but I’ll make sure we get it up on the site quickly.

  9. BrianR
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    I echo Adam.

    The DDA began discussing dumpsters and had an ad hoc committee working on a policy and payment arrangement as early as 2011!!!

    That’s long before the Depot Town TIFA plan, long before City Staff becoming the new Director, long before the revenue-sharing agreement, and long before any ballot proposal.

  10. Mr. Y
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    I feel especially bad for Rob Hess, as he’s invested so much in the opening of Go! Ice Cream. The fact that he had to open his shop with bags of trash stacked outside just sucks. If we want to attract business to downtown, this certainly isn’t the way to do it.

  11. LaraZ
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Adam, if there is a dumpster enclosure near a building, can it be used (such as the one near Go Ice Cream in the free parking lot), or would the DDA mandate building a new one? We have had good conversations with local landlords about this, who are eager to help find a solution.

  12. LaraZ
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    On behalf of Go Ice Cream, I just want to reiterate that we’ve had good conversations with the local landlords and that we’re all eager for a solution. We are closed on Mondays, which is trash pickup day and the worst day — visually — for this mess. It does suck to have trash piling up in the alley, but we’ve asked the local landlord about possibly putting up a small barrier around the trash cans in the alley, or cost-sharing the dumpster. Not sure if the latter is feasible if an $8500 charge is necessary, but if we can cost-share the existing dumpster, that might be a solution.

  13. Andrew Clock
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    So you’ve been working on it since 2011 and the best compromise available was “fuck it, go ahead and put it on the streets?” That’s Ypsi Real.

    Is anything added by Adam and Brian supposed to make us feel better about how our city government functions? Certainly makes me wonder who was and wasn’t willing to compromise.

  14. BrianR
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    This is a project led and implemented by the DDA. My rebuttal was for the conspiracy theorists out there that think I’m trying to steal the DDA’s money.

    The non-communal garbage process began because the districts fight and one felt the other was getting something it wasn’t. This process was LED by the building owners. For crissakes, the committee had Karen, Sandee, Linda, and Rex on it.

  15. Ilana
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    So, we have finger pointing and blame by the DDA, but no proffered solution, other than charging landlords an inflated fee for garbage pickup. This is ridiculous. The landlords and tenants are better off coming to an agreement for how to share the dumpsters available. Unless the dumpsters magically shrunk overnight?

  16. Joe M.
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    How does the DDA dumpster service cost $25k when a landlord got a quote from WM for $120/month for one dumpster? That’s $1,440/year. How many dumpsters does the DDA maintain? There shouldn’t be any lump upfront costs as the enclosures are already built – no one is looking to add new dumpsters.

    Sounds like the DDA needs to renegotiate or bid out their dumpster collection contract.

  17. Lynne
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Can’t the city just build the dumpsters for the landlords and then bill them for it through a special assessment?

  18. Andrew Clock
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    From Mark’s thread on FB

    *monthly* fees are:
    $125 per restaurant
    $50 per commercial-non-restaurant-business
    $25 per residential unit

    Seems a little steep, especially for residential units. And while I agree that trash service is paid for twice over by downtown landlords through property and dda zone taxes, we do face other financial realities.

    The trash can’t be on the streets. Isn’t there an ordinance saying buildings with more than 3 units must provide dumpsters? If not we need a new one. Then a more equitable solution to the dumpsters needs to be found, and finger pointing isn’t productive to finding a solution. You’d think that’s a lesson we’d have learned by now.

  19. site admin
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Adam Gainsley, the DDA Treasurer, just posted the following to Facebook in response to a question posed by Stewart Beal concerning the rates:

    I confirmed with Joe that we’ll get the waste collection agreement document up on our website today. In the meantime I’ll send you a copy directly (it’s a pdf and facebook doesn’t seem to want to let me post it here). The basic fee schedule is:

    *monthly* fees are:
    $125 per restaurant
    $50 per commercial-non-restaurant-business
    $25 per residiential unit

    If you’d like I’d be more than happy to get together in person and chat at your convenience. I definitely understand that this is frustrating but I hope you understand that this is the result of severe budget limitations and not a lack of supportiveness on the part of the DDA board or staff.

  20. Andrew Clock
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Also, why wasn’t DDA dumpster service negotiated with Republic, since they use messy dumpster trucks for curbside anyway? If that didn’t happen, seems like a big missed opportunity.

  21. BrianR
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Joe

    The DDA manages dumpsters in S. Huron, N. Huron, and N. Adams parking lots.

    More to the point, those are emptied 3 or 4 times a week — thus the cost. It’s likely the quote you referenced at $120/mo is not for the same frequency of disposal.

  22. Jay
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Is the DDA willing to let all the landlords and businesses put dumpsters inside of those enclosures? If they are, that would be the ticket. The DDA supplies the dumpster enclosures, which are usually very costly, and the businesses arrange to have dumpsters put inside for their tenants and restaurants. Can someone confirm if the DDA is willing to let the businesses put dumpsters inside of the enclosures?
    Seems like this would clear the whole mess up

  23. Matt
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    The photo posted with this story is the garbage and recycling from the residents at 200 W Michigan, the people living above Bona Sera. Most of what you see in that photo is recycling. The problem here is that the residents in that building are not using the red recycling bins which I understand are required by the city for recycling pickup. The blame lies with residents when don’t care enough to follow the rules or care how this makes the city look, the city who won’t enforce the rules and the landlord who hasn’t educated their renters. If people cared enough the follow the rules this wouldn’t nearly be a problem

  24. Matt
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    The point being that this is not at least in this example, as Adam Gainsley states, due “landlords lashing out because they are no longer being provided free trash service” it’s mostly about people living here who could care less about the city.

  25. Rob Hess
    Posted August 4, 2016 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Hey, Mark. Thanks for the concern and for always bringing these conversations to the forefront. We are working with the landlords across the alley to figure out a solution that will work better for both of us and it’s going great. Nobody wants the city to look crappy, so the trash bags (if they have to stay there) will be less of an eyesore real soon. In the meantime, I think that your post will help stimulate conversation about the trash issue and hopefully help us find a resolution.

  26. Finn
    Posted August 6, 2016 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Matt,

    This is not about renters who don’t care enough about the city to get red recycling bins. I used to live in those apartments and know from experience that you can’t get a red recycling bin if you live in a dwelling of more than four units. The people who live in those apartments are similar to other Ypsi residents in that some don’t care at all about recycling but others would go to lengths to recycle even though curbside pickup in a red bin isn’t available to them, either by taking it to frog island or in a few of my neighbor’s cases, bringing it to their parents’ homes. If Ypsi’s abysmal recycling rate is of concern, than a change to the city’s policy of not offering that service to buildings with more than four apartments needs to be changed, but that’s unlikely with the Water Street mileage having been voted down.

    Speaking of recycling, I also work downtown in a very large building and know that business tenants there are also not provided with recycling so most of them throw all of their recycling in the trash, which of course only exacerbates the need for dumpsters downtown, as well as all of the other detrimental consequences of not recycling.

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