Residents of East St. Louis who are more than three months late on their trash and sewer bills may end up losing their occupancy permits as a result of new ordinances passed by the City Council.
The laws, passed Dec. 10, would allow the city’s Regulatory Affairs office to revoke occupancy permits starting April 1, though some of the legal details are still being worked out, as they could conflict with state law, said Michael Wagner, an attorney for East St. Louis.
“We are researching to ensure that the city is not infringing on any established state or federal law,” Wagner wrote in an email. Wagner said that minor infractions can’t be grounds for revocation.
The ordinances target illegal dumping and a need for citizens to pay their bills. The city estimates that 30-35 percent of city residents aren’t paying for trash collection or sewer services.
When fewer people pay their bills, they become more expensive for those who do pay, Wagner said.
If there’s only one person on a street who pays for trash service, Waste Management, the company under contract with the city, still has to drive down the street and pick up that person’s trash, Wagner explained. Sanitation employees also often unwittingly pick up trash belonging to people who don’t pay as well as the trash they leave at the houses of people who do, he said.
In 1992, Waste Management provided service to 14,000 East St. Louisans, said Lisa Disbrow, a spokeswoman for the company. Back then, she said, the city paid the bill, either through its property taxes or revenue taken in through the water bill, though Disbrow said she wasn’t certain which.
Later, when payment shifted to individuals in the mid- to late-1990s, collections “gradually slid” due to emigration and lack of payment, Disbrow said. Today, about 5,000 people pay a monthly bill of $20.30 in the city.
Wagner acknowledged that poverty could ne an issue for lack of payment.
The two ordinances stated that East St. Louis will provide “direction toward financial assistance for residents who demonstrate the need for such help,” but the details will likely remain unresolved until a new city manager is appointed, interim City Manager Edith Moore said.
Moore replaced Alvin Parks in December. Her replacement could take 60 days, she said.
New powers for ESL firefighters
The East St. Louis City Council also passed two fire code ordinances on Dec. 10.
One imposes new fines for open burning. The first offense is $50; the second is $100; and the third is $150.
The other ordinance authorizes city firefighters to issue citations for all non-traffic ordinance violations, though that measure also has legal questions the city is working to answer, Moore said.
“I wouldn’t say this is extremely common but I have heard of it,” wrote Laurie Reynolds, the Prentice H. Marshall Professor at the University of Illinois College of Law and a researcher of state and local governmental law, in an email.
The ordinance might help firefighters who “are frequently frustrated to see cars blocking hydrants or parked too close to the intersection so they have trouble maneuvering their trucks,” she wrote.
The Carbondale Fire Department also issues citations for violations against fire codes, like open burning, occupancy violations and parking in front of hydrants, said Fire Chief Ted Lomax, who has been on the force for 26 years, but not for other non-fire-code violations like disorderly conduct.
Only the fire inspector and eight officers may write tickets, not Carbondale’s 21 firefighters, he said. When there are other, obvious citations, firefighters call the police.
Locally, the Belleville Fire Department doesn’t write citations for ordinance violations unrelated to enforcing fire codes, Fire Chief Tom Pour said. Even then, the firefighters can issue only warning citations. The fire department lets police officers with the Department of Housing issue citations.
Pour said that he could understand why East St. Louis would let firefighters issue citations if the goal was to enforce ordinances. That way, the fire department wouldn’t have to call out the police department away from other work.
“Every department is different,” he said.
East St. Louis Fire Chief Jason Blackmon said his department did not have any input on the ordinance expanding firefighters’ powers. He also said it would take a couple of months before the department would be in a position to train and implement the measure.
But, City Manager Moore said, there are legal issues to sort out with that ordinance, too.