Trash Talking in Gary | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Trash Talking in Gary

The city of Chicago has some experience in privatizing publicly-owned entities with varying success. The city leased out the Chicago Skyway Toll Bridge a few years ago and more recently parking meters. The nearby city of Gary, Indiana, is now experimenting with privatizing its garbage collection services. So far, it's caused nothing but a big stink.

Jim Nowacki doesn't like walking around with garbage. But that's just what the Gary resident is doing this week. And that's what led to his arrest.

NOWACKI: As a protest to the city not picking up garbage, I was carrying this garbage as a protest for the mayor not picking up the city's trash.

Nowacki carried the sack full of food and cookie wrappers and an empty milk carton into Gary City Hall on Wednesday but police arrested him for doing so.

 NOWACKI: They said you can't bring trash into city hall.

Well, come Monday morning, Gary police may end up having to deal with a lot more people bringing trash into City Hall.

Dozens of residents are expected to bring a sack of trash to protest the city's lack of garbage collection.

Protesters are also against a move by the mayor to allow a private firm to haul away trash, at a cost of $12 a month to residents.

The city used to pick up trash with its own workforce for free.

The city's mayor, Rudy Clay says it's cheaper for the cash-strapped city to pay a company to haul away trash than for the city to do it itself.

And, he says, Allied Waste, the firm hired to do the work, does a better job.

CLAY: Why should we spend $10 million and have 40 or 50 complaints a day on picking up garbage, when we can spend $4 million less and have the garbage picked up.

GRIMES: It is a tax. We get nothing in addition for this $12. That's Gary resident and attorney Douglas Grimes.

GRIMES: We pay for basic services through our taxes. And, the city does not have the authority to impose new taxes.

Grimes and Nowacki are members of the MCC, short for the Miller Citizens Corporation, named after Gray's most affluent lakefront neighborhood.

The MCC has fought in court to stop Gary from imposing the garbage fee and so far they're winning.

Here's how Clay got into this situation.He ordered the privatization of trash services last fall but never got city council approval to do it.

A judge ruled in May that the city cannot collect the garbage collection fee without approval from the city council.

Clay ordered the company to stop picking up trash since the City Council last week rejected the fee.

The council meets Tuesday to consider a similar proposal. Clay admits that some mistakes were made but says hiring a private firm to handle garbage collection is better for the city financially.

CLAY: Some people are saying let's go back to the old way. The old way, the citizens of Gary was getting ripped off, short-changed. They were paying $41 a month for getting their garbage picked up. That don't make sense.

But Jim Nowacki thinks the City Council shouldn't approve the fee. Nowacki says the city should return to doing the work and rehire the 50 or so city workers who lost their jobs.

NOWACKI: Clearly, the citizens of Gary want garbage pickup but they do not want a corrupted process and they do not want to pay more for that service than is legitimate.

Until the dispute is settled, you may have to hold your nose when driving through Gary.

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