INDIANAPOLIS - It's one of the most frustrating and frequent complaints made to city hall: illegal dumping.
On Thursday, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard announced a new proposal to deal with the problem.
Under the mayor's plan, if a property owner can convince a city inspector that they're not responsible for trash on their property, then the city will pay for the clean-up – not once, but twice.
Illegal dumping has become such an issue that even just off the corner of Washington Street and Hamilton Avenue, in view of one of the city's most heavily traveled corridors, an unsightly pile of debris can be seen. And the pile, which includes yard waste, an old toilet and a TV set, has been there for more than a month.
"The people that's doing the dumping, they know they're wrong for doing it," one resident told us. "But they don't care. They don't do it around their homes. They come here and do it over here."
For more than five years, Indianapolis has lacked a formal enforcement effort to pursue individuals responsible for one of the city's most vexing environmental problems. And so, right or wrong, the punishment for illegal dumping fell to the property owner.
"He's liable for his own property," said Rachel Cooper, Southeast Community Organizer. "So, we're having homeowners written up for illegal dumping that they had nothing to do with."
Illegal dumping lowers property values and quality of life. And it creates health issues while increasing the likelihood of crime. If not cleaned up, illegal dumping only invites more illegal dumping.
On Thursday, the Department of Code Enforcement rolled out a program that could give relief to neighborhoods. Inspectors will root through trash piles to determine who's responsible for the illegal dumping, taking the burden off property owners for someone else's mess.
"If someone else dumped the trash, the Dept. of Code Enforcement will send a contract crew to clean up the property as soon as possible," Ballard said.
The city says it will make illegal dumping a major point of emphasis that will include the purchase of new technologies and high-resolution cameras to keep around-the-clock watch on the most problematic areas of the city.
"We will probably start seeing those types of cameras and that type of technology in those areas to catch the scofflaws," said Rick Powers, Indianapolis' director of code enforcement.
More than 18,000 people a year complain to city hall about illegal dumping. Now the city believes it has a program to help not only the victims, but punish the lawbreakers.
"They're actually going to start looking for the people who are doing this," said City-County Councilor Zach Adamson. "And a lot of time, it's the same people all across the city."
Ballard said if the city is forced to clean up a property more than twice, it will help the owner take preventative steps to keep it from happening again – and by aggressively pursuing illegal dumpers, Ballard says the effort will pay for itself.