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Bulk garbage accumulating

| Wednesday, July 3, 2002, 12:00 p.m.

Piles of discarded toilets, stained mattresses and torn sofas are growing along Pittsburgh streets because garbage crews can no longer keep pace with residents throwing the stuff out, city officials said.

Employees at the St. Basil Parish Credit Union in Carrick have watched as a pile of discarded bedroom furniture next to their store has grown in the last month instead of getting carted away. A nearby resident, Samantha Higgins, 26, gave up on the city crews and tried to have a private company haul away a coffee table and other furniture from a previous owner. But that would have cost $200.

Along just one block of Starkamp Street in Brookline, meanwhile, four mattresses and two couches — one blue and one white — sit outside a handful of houses.

"It makes it look filthy out here," said Frank Thurner, 40, who lives around the corner and left out a broken coffee table and wardrobe that were not picked up. "We all pay our taxes. I'm afraid somebody is going to get hurt on it."

The problem has been repeated throughout Pittsburgh neighborhoods such as Shadyside, Mt. Washington, the West End, North Side, Lawrenceville and Lincoln Place. City Council members said they plan to raise the issue with Murphy administration officials at a meeting today.

The bulk garbage — basically anything larger than one person can lift, such as appliances and furniture — has mounted in recent weeks because the city's Environmental Services Bureau does not have enough people or trucks to pick it all up, said director Lamar Barnes.

"We recognize we're behind, but we're working as fast as we can to catch up," he said.

Of 185 employees, the bureau has 40 people out on extended illness, Barnes said. He only had enough employees Tuesday to send out two of the city's four bulk garbage trucks.

Those crews that do turn out are asked to pick up more and more of the slack.

Environmental Services already has gone through almost all of the $600,000 allotted for overtime pay this year. The administration asked City Council yesterday to approve another $300,000 to keep garbage crews on the streets after their shifts end.

Faced with a similar problem last year, the city ate up $1.18 million in overtime pay — more than double what was budgeted.

"Something needs to be done either way," said Councilman Jim Motznik, adding that the city is on the verge of a "crisis situation." "We need more money or we need to hire more people."

Until budget-cutting moves in 2000, Pittsburgh garbage trucks had three workers on them every other week, and they picked up everything from household garbage to larger items. The city had 199 refuse workers at the time, Barnes said.

Now the city has 185 employees and most refuse trucks have just two workers, picking up only household waste. Four separate bulk garbage trucks, with three employees each, are supposed to pick up the larger items.

But under that system, bulk garbage gets the lowest priority, Barnes said. For health reasons, the city works to pick up household waste and recycling first. If crews are left, they go after the larger items.

"It's unsightly and a little unsafe on the sidewalks, but it's our least health impact," Barnes said about the bulk waste. "You want to get everything and go, but we have to prioritize it."

Even as the overtime pay accounts are running low, crews are faced with mounting garbage, Barnes added. The amount of waste tends to grow in summer months when residents are putting out more yard waste next to the castoffs from spring cleaning.

Each of the city's bulk crews make about 2,000 stops daily.

While residents said they appreciate the city's predicament, they still want the garbage picked up from their curbs. Short of that, most said they would like to know when city crews are coming — so they do not have to just leave out the piles of junk for weeks.

"There's nothing we can do about it," said Crystal Kruger, 17, of Carrick, who has dealt with a neighbor's pile of old bedroom furniture on her curb for more than a month. "We see garbage trucks drive by all the time, but they don't stop here."

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