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Kansas City takes more than 3 weeks to clear trash illegally dumped on streets and lots: audit

A mattress rolled up with twine and a portable crib sit amongst weeds and other trash along a curb near a quiet street. A lone car is parked near the curb.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A mattress rolled up with twine and a portable crib filled with household goods sit among weeds and other trash along 61st Street near Troost Avenue.

The report by the City Auditor comes as resident satisfaction with the city's illegal dumping services has hit its lowest level since 2016.

It takes Kansas City’s Public Works Department an average of 24 days to resolve illegal dumping complaints, according to a newly released audit by the City Auditor.

The audit, which focused on the length of time it takes the city to resolve illegal dumping service requests and community engagement efforts to address the problem, analyzed 2,700 illegal dumping service requests between February and August 2021 submitted through the 311 Action Center.

Illegal dumping, and the city’s attempts to reduce it, has been a consistent complaint of Kansas City residents. According to the most recent resident satisfaction survey, only 20% of Kansas Citians said they were satisfied with the city’s attempts to reduce illegal dumping — the lowest percentage since 2016.

The audit found that public works did not know how long it took to resolve illegal dumping cases because the department did not track that data and did not have set goals for response times.

Once a resident files an illegal dumping service request, public works staff investigates the site before it is cleaned up. Michael Shaw, the director of public works, said the department needs to work on creating a more efficient process to clear illegal dumping sites more quickly.

“The audit did show that there is a disconnect between the investigations and the collections, and we definitely have to bridge that gap in a more efficient and effective manner,” Shaw acknowledged..

The majority of 311 requests dealt with illegal dumping in a city right-of-way, which took public works an average of 25 days to address, the audit found.

The audit also found that public works has not implemented the community engagement strategies outlined in the Citywide Business Plan, which includes education and outreach campaigns with residents. The audit recommends that the director of public works create an anti-illegal dumping campaign incorporating community engagement.

It also recommends that public works consolidate all illegal dumping requests in the city’s 311 system, analyze response times and establish goals for response times.

Shaw agreed with the recommendations, and in a letter to the auditor’s office, said public works will work with DataKC staff to analyze how long it takes to resolve illegal dumping cases and then develop goals for response times.

He said hiring more code enforcement officers will help shorten cleanup and response times. He also told the city council that his department is starting to make changes to increase the frequency of trash pickup.

“We'll have trucks in every section — north, south and central parts of the city — covering it in a five-day period instead of a 30-day period, which gives more opportunity for those large clamps to pick up the illegal dumping, the bulky and all that,” Shaw said. “Because they're gonna be in those neighborhoods on a weekly basis versus a monthly basis.”

Shaw also told the council that the department is looking to work with the Mid-America Regional Council to reduce illegal dumping and conduct more neighborhood outreach.

Illegal dumping is particularly problematic in the 3rd District, Councilwoman Melissa Robinson said, adding that three weeks is too long to resolve an illegal dumping case.

Robinson, who represents the district, said three to five days would be a better response time.

“How long should people have to look at illegal dumping and have to experience the rodents and all of the health implications that come with these large amounts of trash in their communities?”
Robinson asked.

Robinson said she thought the audit’s findings didn’t adequately address how the city can prevent illegal dumping in the first place.

“They're not gonna usher in a new, fresh approach — a more urgent approach — to address trash and these health environments that impact, particularly, the 3rd District,” she said.

Robinson said she supports a more proactive approach to picking up trash around neighborhoods rather than making it residents’ responsibility to address it.

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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