HALLOWELL — Visitors and residents want to see more trash cans in city parks, but city officials are removing them, saying it reduces litter strain on the Public Works Department.

Councilors took no action Monday night, after about an hour of discussion about placing trash cans where they once were in some city parks, like Granite City Park and Vaughn Field. Mayor Mark Walker said he would report notes from discussion back to City Manager Nate Rudy, who was absent Monday while he attended a Senior Executives in State and Local Government program at Harvard University.

Councilor Michael Frett made a motion to put signage around the city promoting a “carry in, carry out” policy, so visitors would remove all trash they create and dispose of it elsewhere. The motion died for lack of a second because councilors were unsure if they needed to formally create a new city policy before placing signs.

The city has six public trash cans: Four on Water Street and two at the Hallowell Recreation Area, locally known as the Res.

Public works previously provided trash cans at Granite City Park and Vaughn Field, but removed them in July 2018 because they were being misused, according to Public Works Foreman Chris Buck. He said at Monday’s meeting that trash would overflow and create an eyesore at Granite City Park, and the trash can near the dog park at Vaughn Field could be a health hazard.

“We had a trash can (at Vaughn Field) for the dog poop (and) someone’s either not picking up their dog poop or just picking it up with a stick and smearing it all over the trash can,” he said.  “It’s a health issue in a sense.”

Buck said Tuesday that studies show a “social habit” that people have of seeing a trash can and using it. He said people will empty out their cars of trash in cans placed in public places, which causes them to overflow faster. Further, he said people place trash around full trash cans instead of looking for another receptacle.

In addition, the city’s public works department doesn’t work weekends, Buck noted, which increases the likelihood of overflows by the time crews are back on Monday.

On Monday, Councilor Diano Circo asked if removing the trash can has reduced levels of litter in parks, to which Buck said it had. Buck told the Kennebec Journal Tuesday that he found two crushed soda cans and a piece of paper at Granite City Park on Tuesday morning.

Trash cans on Water Street are not misused as much and rarely overflow, he said. Buck said, however, that trash cans are also misused at the Res and toilet paper is often stolen from the bathrooms at the park.

Resident Stacey Mondschein Katz said she and her husband walk the dogs by the dog park at Vaughn Field nearly every day. She told councilors on Monday that there is dog waste “everywhere” at the park, but taking away the trash can seems “very backward” because they help keep the city clean when used properly.

“It makes sense to put some resources towards making sure there is a garbage pail down there (at Granite City Park),” she said. “It makes sense for this beautiful city, with beautiful new streets and beautiful new sidewalks, to have garbage pails to keep the city clean.”

Katz said she understands Buck’s perspective, but did not think taking away the trash cans was a solution. She said she would be in favor of a small tax increase to pay for additional Public Works staff hours for trash clean-up.

“I don’t think you should punish people who do the right thing and throw away their garbage,” Katz said Tuesday. “It makes it more challenging for people who are trying to keep the city clean.”

Photos show before and after a trash can was removed from Granite City Park in Hallowell. Photos courtesy of Chris Buck

Buck said the city could save money by removing the trash cans because they would not need to buy trash bags. He added that the Public Works department employees can do other work in city parks if they don’t need to empty several trash cans or pick up litter.

Resident Cary Colwell said trash cans at Granite City Park are necessary for “the sake of ease.” She said the city should encourage visitors to get takeout from Hallowell’s restaurants and provide trash cans for containers to be thrown away, despite misuse of the receptacles.

“People are always going to do stupid things,” Colwell said, adding that she has seen trash stashed under shrubs in downtown Hallowell. “We can’t legislate stupid.”

Sidney resident Tracy Walker was sitting in a colorful Adirondack chair on Tuesday afternoon. She said it was the first time she has stopped by Granite City Park, but noticed in other towns that trash cans were being taken away because people will “abuse” them. She said she can understand why municipalities are moving them to avoid the headache of paying for clean up and maintenance.

“I find that I have to put it in my car,” he said. “That’s why I find the nearest gas station.”

Resident Maggie Warren said at Monday’s meeting that the trash cans in city parks would be helpful for recreational bikers who may not have room in their bike storage for carrying trash in and out.

Councilor Maureen Aucoin said she has heard complaints from constituents about the lack the trash cans at Granite City Park, but has never heard complaints of overflowing trash cans. She said she was in favor of trash cans at the parks.

Councilor Patrick Wynne said he was not in favor of taking any action because he didn’t think the issue needed to be “on the City Manager’s plate.” Councilor Kara Walker said trash cans could be placed in areas further away from parked vehicles to discourage disposal of trash in public trash cans. Councilor Kate Dufour said she was “OK with the current practice of not including the trash cans at the park.”

The city’s Code of Ordinances states in section 6-216 that “no person shall sweep, place or deposit any dirt, soot, ashes, shavings, paper, hair, manure or any vegetables or animal substance or any rubbish, offal or filth, any snow, etc. on or upon any street, sidewalk or public place in the city.” Code violations are usually punished by fines between $50 and $250, but Hallowell Police Sgt. Jordan Gaudet said city officers would likely write a summons for violating state laws for littering rather than a city ordinance violation.

“There’s no assigned penalty (for littering),” Gaudet said. “That goes to court and a judge determines (a fine) on the totality of the circumstances.”

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