An illegal dumping cleanup team created by City Council last year will soon get more staff to address growing concerns from residents about persistent trash problems.

David Newman, director for the city’s Solid Waste Management Department, also told council members Wednesday that the city will redraw its trash collection routes, causing a change in collection day for some residents beginning in November.

The new routes come as a growing city adds 15 new solid waste collection drivers, as well as one new fleet mechanic, into its solid waste budget for the 2023 fiscal year. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1, and the new routes are expected to go into effect Nov. 7. 

The $2.62 million solid waste management budget proposed by city staff includes $600,000 for new garbage trucks that are small enough to navigate high-density housing areas. The budget does not recommend increasing fees for trash collection this fiscal year. 

Speaking to council members at a budget work session, Newman said the city needs to double down on its efforts to combat illegal dumping, such as warning people about potential consequences. His department is putting up signs depicting people in handcuffs and warning them not to dump trash. 

Small amounts of illegal dumping can result in fines ranging from the city $500 to $2000. Large-scale dumping like the kind Newman’s department cleans up is prosecuted by the district attorney’s office.

“We’ve prosecuted the [offenses] for the city,” City Attorney Andy Segovia said. But large-scale dumping “is DA prosecution … that could be a felony, or they could go to jail.”

Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales campaigned on a plan to prioritize prosecuting violent crimes, making crimes like dumping a low priority. On Wednesday, Bexar County announced the arrests of two people on charges of illegal dumping.

The city added a team to address unlawful dumping last year and performed 9,000 cleanups of 2,500 tons of garbage. The team also cleaned up 235 encampments as the city contends with increasing levels of homelessness. 

The 2023 fiscal year budget calls for five new staff members for the illegal dumping cleanup team, plus money for the awareness campaign.

Almost every council member said the issue of illegal dumping ranked high among residents’ concerns. The cleanup staff account for roughly $850,000 of the city’s solid waste management budget.

Though the budget proposal doesn’t call for a rate increase, Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) said he was concerned that simply adding staff to address the problem would lead to a rate increase in the future.

“What are the consequences [for illegal dumping]? Have we ever prosecuted anyone for illegal dumping here?” Perry asked.

Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) asked whether the city could instead encourage people not to dump trash illegally through signs directing them toward free drop-off locations, as opposed to threatening them with consequences.

“We’ve tried a few things. … We put a series of signs out when we built the bulky [trash dropoff] sites that said, ‘Don’t dump here, take it down the street [to a free garbage dropoff],” said Newman. “[The areas] just got filled up with illegal dumping right on top of the signs.”

Newman said the cleanup team sets its priorities based on residents’ requests as opposed to dividing its time evenly among the districts. It does not clean up encampments under freeways, which are the responsibility of the Texas Department of Transportation.

Newman’s budget presentation also called for ending the city’s brush disposal service for commercial customers in April 2023. The service would still be available for residents, but Newman said cutting out commercial customers would reduce on dust in the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as fire risks.

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Andrea Drusch

Andrea Drusch writes about local government for the San Antonio Report. She's covered politics in Washington, D.C., and Texas for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, National Journal and Politico.