On April 4, Laurel City Council member Carl DeWalt led a small group of volunteers around the city to pick up trash. Their main focus: the alleys between 6th and 7th streets, parallel to Montgomery Street, where a pile of old televisions, broken recliner chairs, liquor bottles and other dumped garbage had steadily grown.
“There was all kinds of junk,” DeWalt said. “We filled two pickup trucks with stuff.”
Everything was moved out of the alleys to the street, where the city’s Department of Public Works would be able to pick it up. The day after the volunteer cleanup, DeWalt called the city to alert it that the trash was ready to be hauled away.
“I thought we were doing a good thing, doing the right thing,” DeWalt said. “The alley looks so good now.”
To his surprise, DeWalt received three bills from the city totaling $185 for the trash removal.
“I’m not paying it,” he said. “I didn’t even have to call and report it. It wasn’t on the road or blocking the sidewalk.”
At Monday’s mayor and City Council meeting, DeWalt brought up the charges during his remarks, expressing concern about wording in the bills that implied if they weren’t paid, it could affect future city services.
“What are they going to do?” DeWalt asked. “Not fix a pothole? Are they actually going to punish me?”
Mayor Craig Moe told DeWalt that it was the first time he was hearing of the bills, and that he would like to review them when possible. He did note that if tires, refrigerators or other large items were collected, a charge is applied because the city gets charged for those items’ removal.
DeWalt also suggested that residents “need to be educated and held responsible” on proper living conditions. Moe agreed, saying that he was hopeful a community meeting could be organized.
In April, the city’s Parks and Recreation department started its new Green Up Clean Up program that provides small groups with a bucket of supplies — including gloves, reflective vests, trash bags and trash pickers — to encourage people to take an active role in keeping the community clean.
“Litter is everywhere. This is really something we need everybody in the community to be concerned about,” said Joanne Hall Barr, director of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation. “Cleaning up your neighborhood is a start. Every little bit helps. It’s been a great program.”
Interested parties just have to call a day in advance to get a bucket. While city staff can suggest areas in need, most groups focus on the areas where they live or on the city’s parks, Barr said. The trash collected is either hauled away by the participants or left in a designated area, Barr said. Groups return the bucket and supplies when they are finished so the staff can sanitize them and restock them for the next use.
“We will make arrangements ... for large amounts of trash with our staff,” said Barr, adding that there should not be a charge for removal. “This is a help. The sweat equity we’re getting from the community is far greater than the expense. This is a very small investment.”
Laurel resident Martin Mitchell has organized several cleanup events in Laurel that he said have received support from the city.
“I have had no trouble getting rid of the trash,” Mitchell said. “When we had a clean up at the lake [Granville Gude Park], we left it by the brown bins and the city came and picked it up.”
While it might not be picked up right away, the city does eventually pick up the trash and debris that Laurel for the Patuxent collects during its river cleanups, according to Mike McLaughlin, co-chair of the nonprofit.
“The city has been a really good partner,” McLaughlin said. “We are happy to keep that partnership going.”
DeWalt has never had a problem with trash pickup before, he said, and plans to continue to help out when he can.
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“I will do anything for my constituents,” DeWalt said. “As long at it gets taken care.”