Zurik: Dumpster fee snafu prompts city reform plan

Published: Sep. 22, 2014 at 11:38 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 27, 2017 at 1:50 PM CDT
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Our February report featured an interactive map locating 290 dumpsters in New Orleans between...
Our February report featured an interactive map locating 290 dumpsters in New Orleans between Oct. 2013 and Jan. 2014.

The City of New Orleans may overhaul the way it permits dumpsters. That move follows a FOX 8 investigation from earlier this year that showed City Hall could be missing out on millions of dollars.

Back in February, when we asked residents how many dumpsters they thought sit outside homes in New Orleans, one responded, "What, like the big ones? At least [one] on every street."

However, according to city records, just 104 homes and businesses had dumpsters last year.

"Some people follow the law and some don't," acknowledged Cedric Grant, the deputy mayor of facilities, infrastructure and community development in a February interview.

City law requires a fee for each dumpster, which means the city is losing lots of money. Anyone putting a dumpster at their house must pay a $40 application fee and $20 per day for dumpsters in the public right of way. Last year, for the 104 dumpsters, the city collected just $42,000 in fees.

In early January, we spent two days driving around the city. We searched mainly the Lower 9th Ward, Uptown and Lakeview, but still found 211 dumpsters.

That same week, city records show only 13 dumpsters were permitted - and only one of those was on our list of 211.

"It's one of those things needs more enforcement," Grant told us. "If we receive a complaint we send one of our inspectors out and deal with it. But I would say, in the realm of things that we have to do, that it's probably not as high a priority as it should be."

Since that interview, the city has been doing its own investigation. Friday, Sept. 19, officials from Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration presented their findings to the City Council, acknowledging that not many people are complying with the law.

"We need to come up with a balance to make the fee rational," said Councilwoman Stacy Head, "so that we can in fact enforce it."

The council will likely vote on the Landrieu administration's recommendations to overhaul the system. On Friday, administration officials told the council they'd like to drop that daily fee from $20 to $10, and hire employees specifically for enforcement.

Head seemed to agree. "I firmly believe that [we] have, in this balance, a $10-per-day encouragement to move quickly," she said, "discouragement from taking more space than you need, and also paying the city back for the enforcement that we need to do is a logical way to be make sure that society is able to be stable."

The city thinks an overhaul will allow them to collect more money. By our calculations back in February, full compliance could equal millions of dollars for a cash-strapped city.

The council says it could vote on an overhaul to the way it permits dumpsters in the beginning of next year.

We asked the Landrieu administration for an interview for this story; they never responded to our request.

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