Harrisburg City Council passed new sanitation laws and disbursed more than $2 million in federal grant funds on Tuesday night before adjourning for summer recess.
Over the course of a four-hour meeting, council made sweeping changes to laws governing trash and recycling collection violations in the city. The city’s new sanitation code establishes harsher fines and new enforcement powers, effective immediately.
Despite the lobbying of the city treasurer, council members rejected a provision that would have inaugurated annual trash billing. The city will continue to send homeowners and businesses monthly bills for trash services.
Treasurer Dan Miller said tonight that the proposed billing structure would save the city thousands of dollars in labor costs and increase its collection rate. But Councilman Westburn Majors, chair of the public works committee, said that many residents objected to the provision at public hearings.
Under the annual billing system, residents would have been billed their annual trash collection fee – more than $400 per household – at the beginning of each year. Residents could pay in one lump sum or pay monthly installments via direct deposit from their bank accounts.
Majors said that some residents were worried about the upfront costs of the annual payment or objected to sharing banking information with the city. The provision also did not subject commercial accounts to the same annual billing practice, he said.
“The goal is to treat residents and commercial property owners the same,” Majors said.
Under the new ordinance, owners of vacant properties will no longer be billed for trash services at those parcels. Council added an amendment tonight requiring all vacant property owners to apply for a vacant property exemption, which will be valid for one year pending approval from the city’s Department of Public Works.
The hallmark of the new sanitation code is a new fine and enforcement structure, aimed at curbing illegal trash disposal across the city.
Under the new ordinance, serious offenses – including illegal dumping, accumulation of trash exceeding 1,000 pounds, improper waste disposal and failure to register as a private trash hauler – are considered category 1 violations, punishable by a $1,000 fine or up to 90 days in jail.
Category 2 violations include failure to bag waste, obstruction of streets and sidewalks or interference with enforcement and will be met with fines starting at $100. Fines will increase up to $500 for each subsequent offense.
The ordinance also permits the Public Works Department to designate enforcement officers to patrol public streets for violations, and it authorizes police officers to issue citations and enforce the ordinance.
Council also voted to disburse $2 million in funds from the Community Development Block Grant, a program of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
More than a dozen local nonprofits and city departments will receive grants ranging from $5,000 to $300,000.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse vetoed the allocations that council passed last week. He objected to a last-minute amendment granting $15,000 to Breaking the Chainz, an eligible organization that submitted an incomplete application.
Rather than override his veto, council tonight struck down that amendment and reverted back to the awards proposed by the city’s administration weeks ago. These are:
- Christian Recovery Aftercare Ministries (C.R.A.M.): $40,000
- TLC Work Based Training: $45,000
- A Miracle 4 Sure: $50,000
- Latino Hispanic Community Center: $25,000
- Fair Housing Council: $25,000
- PPL/IN HOUSE: $20,000
- Shades of Greatness: $15,000
- Heinz-Menaker Senior Center: $25,000
- Neighborhood Dispute Settlement: $5,000
- TriCounty HDC: $250,000
- Habitat for Humanity: $100,000
- Housing Rehabilitation Programs (city-run): $321,642
More than $600,000 of the $2 million grant will go to debt service, and $400,000 will reimburse the city for CDBG administration.
Council also approved a new, five-year labor contract with the city’s firefighters tonight, which will lock in 2-percent annual wage increases and establish a new policy to increase retention. Under the new contract, any firefighter who resigns from the city within that five-year period must reimburse the Fire Bureau $5,000 in training costs.
Lastly, council passed a resolution reestablishing Harrisburg’s Environmental Advocacy Council, a seven-member body that will be filled by appointments by council and the mayor’s office.
City council is not scheduled to meet again until Aug. 29. However, it may have to convene a special session once the city receives its Act 47 exit report from the state Department of Community and Economic Development on July 9.