City Council members pressed sanitation department officials in a budget hearing Tuesday on millions of dollars worth of programs they want to see added into its spending plan for the coming fiscal year, highlighting missing dollars for picking up corner wastebaskets, fighting rat infestations and recycling e- waste.
The hearing came as the city has become, to most residents, much dirtier, owing in part to reduced alternate-side street sweeping, said Jessica Tisch, the sanitation department’s commissioner.
Mayor Eric Adams’ latest budget proposal lists the sanitation department’s budget at $1.83 billion, up from $1.78 billion in his preliminary plan.
Council members said they are hoping to see that spending amount increased.
“It seems that everyone in New York City really wants us to get on top of trash and rats,” said Sandy Nurse, chair of the council’s sanitation committee.
In testimony, Tisch, who joined the department three weeks ago, pointed to coming changes in city trash collection.
Alternate-side street sweeping is returning to full, twice-weekly runs starting July 5, after two years of running at half capacity. Tisch called the sweepers, which can suck up 1,500 pounds of trash in one shift, “the most effective tool in our arsenal,” and laid much of the blame for the city’s pandemic era trash heaps on the decision to only do weekly sweeps for “ far too long.”
“In practice, it was like having no cleaning on some blocks in the city,” Tisch said.
The city is also building out a $1.3 million pilot program that will put closed trash containers in each of the five boroughs, and add 100 closed compost drop-off bins to public schools. The city is also starting an effort to bring composting to every city public school, which Tisch said it aims to complete by the end of the 2023-2024 school year.
And dog owners, be warned: Tisch said she is telling sanitation enforcement officers, and will ask the NYPD, to issue more citations for not picking up pet waste. She noted that the city has issued zero summonses in the past two years for the offense.
“That changes now,” Tisch said. “This is about decency, courtesy and respect, and the Department of Sanitation won’t tolerate it anymore.”
Council members pushed Tisch on why the administration had not budgeted for requests included in the council’s response to the fiscal plan for $22 million to support twice daily corner waste bin pickup in every district, $4.8 million for rat mitigation and money to support expanding organic waste curbside pickup.
“We’re happy with a lot of this stuff, but it’s not even close to the full loaf,” Justin Brannan, chair of the council’s finance committee, said.
Tisch said that the department could always do “more with more,” and would welcome pushes for more funding from council members during the final stretch of budget negotiations ahead of the close of the current fiscal year, at the end of June.
“We expect the administration and the council to be able to negotiate some of the critical programs before adoption,” she said.
Tisch, however, could not provide an estimated total for what it would cost to run a citywide curbside organic waste pickup program; about a third of the city’s total waste is organic, she said. The program will remain limited to seven city districts absent more funding, Tisch said, though it can expand capacity within those districts.
When the program was operating in 24 districts, Tisch said, it cost about $30 million per year, though its personnel costs came at an increased overtime rate. Going forward, Tisch said, personnel costs for organic pickups will be on regular “straight” time.
Yet the department is set to start expanding an ongoing organic waste collection pilot program in public schools.
“It takes time to train the food service staff, and the administrators, and to set up all the bins, and even start training all the students,” she said.
Tisch also defended the department in its work on fighting rats throughout the city, saying that the containerization program would help put trash beyond the reach of the rodents.
“If containerization works, and I would be the first to acknowledge that’s a big if… that is a fabulous rat mitigation strategy,” she said.