Council delays action on donation bin law

The Laurel City Council again put off passing an ordinance this week that would regulate the use of street-side donation bins within the city, deciding that it needed more vetting.

"There is no rush," said Mayor Craig Moe at the work session and City Council meeting on Monday, July 8. "We should do it right the first time to make sure the city is protected as well as the nonprofits."

Donation bins, which are usually operated by charitable nonprofits, are used to collect secondhand clothing, shoes and other material goods, which are then resold or repurposed.

The ordinance, which was tabled at the meeting, would require all collection agencies that deploy donation bins to apply for permits within the city's Department of Community Planning and Business Services. It also would require that the agencies be registered 501(c)(3) nonprofits, and would place limitations on the location of the bins.

"We are just trying to clean it up, quite frankly," said Moe about the rampant rise in donation bins.

According to Moe, the ordinance, which has been revised several times since its introduction in May, was developed to address resident complaints about the upkeep and location of the donation bins. Moe estimates there are between 30 and 50 in the city.

The most recent draft of the ordinance states a bin cannot be placed within 150 feet of a residential property, 150 feet from a trash or recycling Dumpster, 25 feet from a street right-of-way line or along the front of any building. It also limits one bin per property and would require daily inspection for litter and graffiti.

The ordinance also would impose a series of fines on organizations that failed to abide by provisions. For the first offense, the organization would pay $50 a day, for the second $100 a day and further offenses would be $250 a day, with possible permit revocation.

The ordinance also would charge a permitting fee that Moe said would be used to cover staff time for site visits.

"I don't want them to be an eyesore for the city," said Ward 1 City Council member Ed Ricks, who pushed to table the ordinance. He said he also is concerned about ensuring that the collection organizations pass the smell test.

"I'm concerned about how much is going to charity and how much is going to someone's pocket," Ricks said. "We really have to think about and look into where this money is going."

According to city officials, representatives from Planet Aid, a group that has donation bins located in the city, have met with city officials to express concerns about the ordinance.

"There are some good issues with the ordinance we would like to support, and also a few changes we think will make the playing field level," said Frank Fowler, a Planet Aid operations manager.

Fowler would not discuss specific issues he had with the ordinance but said Planet Aid is in favor of making sure the bins are kept orderly and placed appropriately.

"The community has concerns and requests, and we are here to meet with them and work it out," Fowler said. "We are working alongside the city to make sure everything is mutually beneficial."

While the mayor and council hope to pass the ordinance at the July 22 meeting, before the City Council takes a recess in August, Ricks said he can envision it going to another work session.

"There are many different angles to this, and I think we have to be careful," Ricks said.

Moe said the council and administration "still has a ways to go" before the ordinance is passed.

"I'm confident if we come back to the table we can come up with a good compromise that would work for everybody," he said.

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