HOPE — Town officials met with constituents to make a pitch for mandatory trash service, citing a health hazard being created by an influx of raccoons, possums and skunks.

“In the last two years, there has been a gigantic flow of wild animals including raccoons, possums and skunks that have invaded this town,” Hope Town Council President Clyde Compton said. “This is creating a tremendous health hazard.”

Those animals, which Compton said will eventually include coyotes, are coming into the northeast Bartholomew County community of 2,100 residents to eat uncollected garbage, the council president said.

“We have to put a stop to this, or the next time we meet, we may be asking how we’re going to get rid of 10,000 skunks,” Compton said.

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While many of the 30 people who attended a special town council work session Tuesday conceded that Compton made a strong point, others pointed out after the meeting that the rising trash problem coincides with timing of a 60 percent increase in water bills in late 2015 to finance a $3 million utility upgrade.

It’s possible that some residents on fixed incomes or from low-income households gave up their trash service as a cost-cutting measure when higher water bills went into effect, said Chelsea Kendall, executive director of the Community Center of Hope.

“Everyone felt that increase, so having a trash service may be considered a luxury at this point,” Kendall said.

Preliminary cost estimates, presented during the meeting at Hauser Jr.-Sr. High School, ranged from $11 a month for basic trash pickup to $16 a month for additional services such as recycling and monthly pickup of large items.

All would be less expensive than the $18 to $22 a month now being paid by 56 percent of Hope households who contract for private trash pickup, said Lucinda Franklin of CGS Services Inc., one of three firms offering to provide the proposed service.

Questions on how a uniform garbage service might impact people individually included disposal of yard waste, use of existing garbage totes, required placement of totes, and problems with maneuvering totes back and forth through snow.

Town Manager J.T. Doane said he could not provide immediate details because the council has not determined the exact services it will request if or when specific proposals are sought from three waste-management companies. However, Doane said he will attempt to get as many answers as possible by the council’s next regular meeting, 5:30 p.m. March 21 at the Hope Town Hall.

Two payment options are being examined. One would add the fee onto the monthly Hope utility bill that now covers water and sewage, Doane said. The other option would be to add it to the property tax bill, the town manager told the audience.

After three residents spoke out against adding the fee to property tax bills, Doane said he still needs to check with county government leaders to find out whether that is a legal option.

Mandatory trash service is just one way the town of Hope is addressing its trash problem.

With little discussion, the council unanimously approved an ordinance Tuesday that requires the removal of unsightly trash, debris and unwholesome substances that people are maintaining on their property — whether it be on a porch, behind a shed or on the side of their garage.

People who commit violations in the judgment of Doane, Town Marshal Matt Tallent or Building and Zoning Administrator Greg Potts would receive a letter stating that if the unwanted items are not removed within 10 days, fines of up to $25 could be levied, Doane said.

The council voted to suspend its rules in order to approve the new ordinance on first reading during Tuesday’s work session. No objections were voiced by the audience.

What's next?

The issue of whether or not to move ahead with plans to create a mandatory trash service may be made at the next regular meeting of the Hope town council.

That meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. March 21 at the Hope Town Hall, 404 Jackson St.

If the council decides to move ahead, specific proposals and services will be sought from three waste management companies, Town Manager J.T. Doane said. Concerns of people who now have long-term contracts regarding trash pickup will be considered before a final decision is made, the town manager said.

Individuals with questions or concerns are invited to drop by the town hall, call Doane at 812-546-6403 or send him an email to townmanager@townofhope.com

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.