"I've been shocked at the improvement."
Dalton Mayor David Pennington doesn't mince words when discussing the changes he's seen in the city since new rules for the curbside collection of bulky refuse items went into effect in August. The changes were designed to improve the appearance of city streets and neighborhoods to spruce up Dalton's "curb appeal."
"I've said for a number of years, we don't look like we're the home of a 10 billion dollar industry. But we are starting to," Pennington said. "I ride around the city all the time and when I go through Brookwood now and Pine Hills on the other side of the city, the difference is unbelievable. I had no idea how much construction material was actually being left on the side of the road."
Construction debris was one type of bulky refuse that was already technically prohibited from being left out for curbside collection by Dalton Public Works, but for years was still being picked up as long as the debris was generated by residents' "do-it-yourself" improvement projects. One of the changes to the city's garbage collection ordinance instituted in August was to no longer collect any of that type of material and instead to require residents to haul the debris off themselves or to make other arrangements. In addition to improving appearance, the change is also leading to monetary savings for the Public Works Department.
"We were averaging about 345 tons of haul off per month to the south landfill," said Andrew Parker, director of the Public Works Department. "Since the ordinance went into effect, there's been a 58% reduction in the tonnage we are hauling. That's to be expected, because by its nature construction debris can be very heavy. Over a period of time, we're expecting those numbers to become the norm and we expect we will be able to reduce our budget for landfill disposal fees and that will provide a savings to the Dalton taxpayer as we're able to be more efficient."
The ordinance also instituted other changes to the city's garbage, bulky item refuse and yard trimmings collection policy. The ordinance set limits on the amount of refuse or yard trimmings that can be left for every biweekly collection at 2 cubic yards of refuse and 4 cubic yards of yard trimmings. It also requires residents to either call ahead to Public Works or to use the "See Click Fix" app to schedule a pickup of bulky items, with the goal of reducing the amount of time that items sit on the curb before being picked up. The policy also prohibits leaving out cardboard boxes if they can't be broken down and placed into a recycling bin, instead setting up a number of cardboard box recycling drop-offs around the city. Information about all of the changes to the policy can be found at daltonga.gov/garbage.
"We've been keeping an eye on the number of violations per day," Parker said. "Initially when we started issuing citations for violations on Aug. 31, that first month we were averaging about 50 violations per day, which is substantial. But the December data that we've logged in shows that we are now at less than 10 per day and the trend line is going down. It tells me that more of our residents are aware of the changes and also that more folks are using the call ahead or using the app because our staff is able to help residents determine what is OK to be left out."
"We have heard a lot fewer complaints. And we've also had folks call us just to tell us that they're noticing a real change in the issue, a real stark improvement in the way the streets look."
Parker points out that the changes to the city's garbage collection ordinance have brought Dalton in line with how other cities around the state handle the issue.
"It's still a great service," he said. "Initially, a lot of residents were upset about the changes, but a lot of that was because they didn't understand that we weren't completely doing away with a service, it was to overhaul the process and bring Dalton more into line with what other communities were doing. Now residents understand why the changes were needed and most of the people recognize that there was an issue with the way the process was."
With the calendar having turned to a new year, the city of Dalton is looking at the next steps that can be taken to further improve the appearance of the city. Pennington says that he's had discussions with the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce about ways the city can help nonprofit groups and private donors to improve the condition and appearance of blighted properties.
"I had lunch with them a month to six weeks ago and discussed a program in Carrollton, Texas, where the city was able to use grant funding to help improve properties and I'm extremely excited about that," Pennington said.
City leaders are researching the Carrollton program and looking at ways to adapt the strategy for use in Dalton, possibly using funding from the Community Development Block Grant program. Funds could possibly be used in concert with a nonprofit group established by the chamber to help homeowners either rehab their homes through improvement projects or through demolition and rebuilds, and also to help business owners improve facades of blighted properties. Pennington said that donors have expressed interest in participating as well.
"This town is going to look like a totally different place in the next two to three years if we can get some of these programs going," Pennington said.
City leaders agree that sprucing up Dalton's curb appeal has been a good first step in that process.