Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Supervisors Want Higher Fines for Illegal Dumping

Current fine is $200. Dumping costing Parks approximately $14,000 a year to clean up.

By - May 8th, 2024 06:39 pm

Illegal dumping in county parks. Photos by Milwaukee County Parks.

The Milwaukee County Supervisors will likely consider raising the fine for illegal dumping in county parks.

It has been a persistent problem for Milwaukee County Parks, as well as municipalities in the county and elsewhere. Secluded areas of parks are being abused by contractors, landlords and other individuals to dispose of waste that should be brought to local landfills.

“So this is dumping of convenience,” Peter Bratt, Director of Operations and Skilled Trades, told the board’s Committee on Parks and Culture.

Sup. Felesia Martin told her colleagues on the committee that she visited an illegal dump site in her district and noticed that a lot of the debris appeared to come from home renovations. And across the street, she said, were several houses being renovated.

After hearing a new report on the problem Tuesday, and viewing pictures of some of the massive dump sites parks staff have encountered, members of the committee showed an interest in raising the county’s fine dumping.

“That’s unacceptable,” Sup. Steve Taylor said. “Like you got to make people pay when they do that. Make an example out of them. Make it hurt.”

The parks department began tracking illegal dumping in 2021, Bratt said, logging the locations of dumps and taking pictures. With this information the department has mapped out the hotspots for dumping, and most of them are in the city of Milwaukee. McGovern Park, Washington Park and the Little Menomonee River Parkway are notable hotspots.

On average, parks staffers spend a combined 600 hours a year cleaning up illegal dump sites. This adds up to approximately $14,000 in hourly compensation, Bratt said, noting that this is roughly the cost to operate a wading pool or a splash pad.

The county’s fine for illegal dumping — $200 — was created in the 1990s and is lax relative to other communities where fines are as high as $5,000, Bratt said. The City of Milwaukee, for example, has a $5,000 fine. Other governments also impound vehicles used for illegal dumping, sell them and use the proceeds to offset the costs of cleanup, Bratt said.

The department is already working with the Milwaukee County Sheriff‘s Office (MCSO) and their own park rangers to try to increase presence in the parks. It is also working with the MCSO to install more cameras in parks, Bratt said.

Parks is working with local supervisors to create more park friends groups, hoping that one effect will be more residents keeping an eye out for illegal dumping. Sup. Juan Miguel Martinez said he was working with neighborhood residents to create a friends group for Mitchell and Clarke Square parks, and that illegal dumping comes up repeatedly among members of a nascent friends group.

“Now, in general, I’m always opposed to fines on things because I always say, ‘fines are taxes on poor people'” Martinez said. “But when it’s medical, when it’s like dumping from contractors and things like that, it’s egregious behavior, and I think that it does really need to have a hefty fine.”

The rest of the committee appeared to agree with Martinez.

“We want to go with the stick approach,” Sup. Sheldon Wasserman said. “The carrot’s not working.”

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