Bulk of code enforcement resources spent on trash non-compliance

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Crews with Sherman's Solid Waste department collect bulk waste in this shot from 2016. The city's bulk trash program has since become a heavy burden for code enforcement officials.

City hopes to reduce enforcement priority

Sherman city leaders are looking at ways to reduce the code enforcement work involved in the city's bulk trash and brush pick up programs. Following discussions with members of the City Council, staff is prepared to roll back how much of a priority enforcement of non-compliance is for code enforcement officers.

The move by the city comes following an increase in the number of issues related to residents who are leaving bulk trash and brush out for collection outside of scheduled monthly times. This has led the department to committing almost half of its resources to this enforcement alone.

"Bulk trash  non-compliance will still be a focus of code enforcement but it will shift from a major focus to being a focus on par with other priorities," Sherman Community and Support Services Manager Nate Strauch said Tuesday.

"Bulk trash is hands down the biggest issue for this department. It generates the most cases, the most work," he added.

Currently, code enforcement maintains a staff of four people. Of those staff members, two dedicate all of their time to enforcement of bulk trash ordinances. As a part of enforcement, staff will run the routes of the monthly routes once before and after the pickup has been collected to note anyone who brought out their bulk waste too early or too late, Code Enforcement Officer Andreas Liss said.

The issues facing code enforcement come from the culmination of a myriad of factors. Currently, the city offers the service month as opposed to quarterly or twice a year, which other cities offer. Likewise, the recent growth within the city has led to more bulk waste being produced and left out for collection.

The code enforcement department has grown in recent years from a staff of two to a staff of four, which increased the capacity for the department to register violations and enforce them. Staff also took a more proactive approach in 2017 and began scouting for violations rather than simply acting on resident reports. In 2020, nearly 1,500  violations were reported by code enforcement.

Strauch and Liss noted that as more resources are put toward the issue of bulk trash violations the number of cases goes up, making it difficult for staff to get ahead of the issue. Rather than reducing the number of cases, staff are more readily able to identify cases that otherwise might go unnoticed. Ultimately, it hasn't changed the behavior, however.

Some members of the council said that increased education, including bilingual education, on the program could be the solution to the problem facing code enforcement. However, even the council itself is not immune to code enforcement issues. City Council Member Pam Howeth noted that she has received a violation in the past.

"If the seven of you, who are among the most educated of all the Sherman citizens of what is going on within the city, are still falling victims to violations of this program, then it isn't just education," Strauch said.

For her part, Howeth asked if all members of city staff, including those in other departments, could effectively work as code enforcement officers and report issues they see around the city. These staff members would not have the authority to write tickets, but could generate reports when they see issues.

Strauch noted that the problem isn't in generating reports of issues but instead is the department's ability to respond and process them.

"What I am saying is that we have so much staff tied up on one particular part of code enforcement that that is where all the resources are going," he said. "Generating more reports is not the problem."

Council Member Willie Steele proposed rolling back the program to twice a year as a way to reduce the impact on code enforcement officers. The program has only had limited impact on reducing clutter and trash in the city despite the significant resources that are put toward it, he said.

"My point is that it (Sherman) isn't getting any cleaner," he said.

Following these discussions, Strauch said staff will likely move forward with reduce focus on the program, but the program itself, and collection times, will not change.