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Laurel city takes 'second stab' at regulating donation bins

Laurel city takes 'second stab' at regulating donation bins
A donation bin at Fifth and Main streets collects donations of clothes and shoes. (Staff photo by Melanie Dzwonchyk)

The Laurel City Council is going to take a "second stab" at a city ordinance that would regulate street-side donation bins throughout the city, Mayor Craig Moe said at a council work session Wednesday.

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

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The ordinance, which was originally introduced last summer, would require all collection agencies that use donation bins to apply for permits within the city's Department of Community Planning and Business Services. It would also charge the agencies a fee, and would place conditions on the location of the bins.

The purpose of the bill is to restore order to the distribution of the 30 to 50 bins distributed throughout the city; some of which city officials say are eye sores and safety hazards.

"We are just trying to clean it up," Moe said. "There are some that don't care where they throw them, and I don't want to see that. ... There's safety issues, there's issues with trash around them."

The council killed the bill three weeks after it was introduced last July after the city received backlash from local bin operators, the most prominent being Planet Aid, a non-profit which deploys the yellow bins seen throughout the city.

Since, the city has worked with Planet Aid and the Baltimore/Washington Corridor Chamber of Commerce to ensure the legislation is palatable for all parties. Notable changes in the legislation include allowing for profit agencies to deploy the bins. Previously, the legislation only allowed non-profits.

"We had taken into consideration comments brought back to us by the Baltimore/Washington Corridor Chamber of Commerce, and the ordinance now addresses the issues of for profit and non for profits," said Kristie Mills, city administrator.

Mills said other changes in the draft legislation include restricting the height of the bins to eight feet, allowing no more than four bins on one property, and restricting bins from being placed in residential zones, except on property owned by a religious entity or non-profit. The bins will also not be permitted in the city's historical district, Moe said.

At the March 5 work session, Moe handed out a letter from Planet Aid with possible recommended changes to the legislation.

"There are a couple things I could live with in there, and there are a couple things I have questions on," Moe said.

The most notable change was Planet Aid's request for the city to set a fee in the ordinance.

"Having a floating fee in each jurisdiction is to become entirely to cumbersome. Planet Aid suggests setting a fee in the ordinance, with a mechanism to increase fees based on specified index (the rate of inflation, for example)," wrote Rich Sarai, regional manager for Planet Aid, in the letter.

Moe said the fees will be set by his office, in conjunction with the city administrator, and is not a money grab.

"The permitting fee is not about making money," Moe said. "It's more to pay for the process and to make sure we get the proper information we need. ... I don't see this thing going way overboard when we are talking about fees."

While most of the council members differed commentary until they could review the recommendations, council member Michael Leszcz raised the issue of liability and urged the council to make sure the city is protected in case an accident occurs with a bin.

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"It's important we have the right liability insurance," Leszcz said.

Council member Donna Crary added that the bins be required to have wheel locks, to prevent possible accidents.

It is expected the council will vote on the legislation sometime later this month. However, given past complications, Moe said the city is in "no rush."

"We are getting there, we are getting close," Moe said. "If we want to do it, let's do it right and get a good piece of legislation."

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