Jason Mitchell is one of the largest landlords in town, and with his properties he has dumpsters all over Newton. Dumpsters, he says, that have been filled with more large items — and more large items left next to them for pick up — since the city started charging for bulky item pickup.
"I have seen an increase in that since the pay to pick up bulky item stuff," Mitchell said. "An increase of things just showing up by my dumpsters."
He believes the city needs to revisit the issue — and he is not alone.
"We have agreed to start talking about the larger issue of blight," said Mayor Barth Hague. "We are planning a work session in the near future to focus on that issue."
Mitchell suggests the city make bulky item pickup free for utility users by adding a $1 fee to sanitation fees in city utility bills.
"Twelve bucks a year isn't much, but that would go a long way to offset (the costs)," Mitchell said. ".. This is something to revisit. You will get a consequence from the action you (took). The consequence is more mattresses sitting out."
No one has a cost analysis for his proposal, and his is not the only one out there when it comes to revisiting the charge and if changes should be made.
After the city started charging a $10 fee, the number of calls for bulky item pickups dropped. According to numbers compiled by city engineer and director of public works Suzanne Loomis before the city was charging fees in 2016, the period of January to August, the city performed 6,232 pickups. In the third quarter of 2016, there were 751 orders. For the year of 2017 to date, the city has had 2,161 orders. The cost is averaging $12.64 per order and the city is charging $10.
"I think we need to do something, I am not exactly sure what," said Glen Davis, a commissioner running for re-election this fall. "When we did this and started we decided to charge $10. I felt like it was reasonable, but at the same time, I warned the commission that people were probably not going to pay the $10. We may have to go back."
This year, the city has lost about $5,700 on bulky item pickup. However, according to commissioner Leroy Koehn, who is running for re-election, the previous year's line-item in the budget was about $70,000.
"We said, well, let's look at that and we charged the $10 and (wanted) to see what the participation would be," Koehn said. "What we have seen is participation is way down. ... I would be in favor of revisiting this and seeing if we can make up that $70,000 in other ways."
The issue came up during a candidate forum, and it was clear that candidates expect the commission to revist the issue after the election. Candidate Ron Eggert said simply that the issue must be revisted, without elaborating.
Each candidate running for city commission had an opinion on the matter — and some offered solutions.
Craig Simons, a resident of Newton who is a former county administrator, believes the city needs to look at its own playbook for a solution. He pointed to how the city handles trips to the landfill.
"I think we should give one or two free ones a year like we do for items being taken to the landfill, and the rest of the time have payment for it," Simons said. "I think it was being abused ... when something is free it can be abused. This would control it and be a better system."
"I would like us to revisit this," said Kathy Valentine, a city commissioner who is up for re-election. "We may need to look at how we make up for those costs another way. People were calling us and asking us to pick stuff up when we were not charging. Our community is starting to look trashy in areas. If you want to bring people to this area to look it over to come live here, we don't need a bunch of garbage and trash sitting out on curbs."
Her sentiments were mirrored by Libby Albers, who is running for her first seat on the commission.
"We know that we are seeing an increase in illegal dumping," Albers said. "... this is a blight issue that is dealt with in larger communities and we do not want to get into that trap. That will attract other things — more degradation and perhaps drug use."