Garbage left in the streets, cans not being emptied, garbage cans and lids not being returned to where they’re supposed to be, and in some instances, garbage and recycling not being picked up at all, sometimes for weeks.
These were the most common complaints lobbed at officials last Tuesday at a town hall meeting hosted by the Village of Lawrence. Almost every resident in attendance shared the same sense that services have gone downhill in the past few years, and that the fault lies in the attitudes of sanitation workers.
“For us as a community, to have this meeting shows [service has] gone downhill and there’s a lack of management on the street,” said Lawrence Mayor Martin Oliner. “If you had a foreman, there’s no way there would be garbage on the street.”
In more extreme instances, residents said that sanitation workers threw garbage bags like it was the “garbage-men Olympics,” broke through fences or ruined shrubs, cursed in front of children, verbally abused residents and told people to stop complaining to the district.
“You’re not doing well at all,” one resident, who didn’t identify himself, told the officials. “We pay large, engorged taxes, we don’t expect to come to meeting to discuss garbage.”
The Sanitary District 1 officials — Commissioners James Vilardi and Frank Argento and Assistant Superintendent George Pappas — acknowledged they need to keep their workers in check.
“When serving 18,000 homes, there will be problems,” Argento said. “When we start holding people accountable, the message gets to the staff.”
But, he added, “We’re dealing with a union, so it’s hard to terminate them. The bottom line is we get the issues and we get the message.”
The officials said that they suspended one crew in Woodmere for leaving garbage in the streets, and that they would start putting foremen on crews in Lawrence.
Sanitary District 1 will also start sending out mailings to tell residents about what to expect during that particular season and when sanitation services will not take place, officials said. The district is also upgrading its recycling facility and computer system to better track trucks and special pickup requests.
It wasn’t all negative at the meeting, however. Residents praised the district for its backdoor pickup and special pickup services, and commended the officials for their responsiveness.
Pappas promised the district would do its best to improve right away.
“You’re going to have smiling faces tomorrow morning,” he said.