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Park Ridge considers licensing trash scavengers

<p>File photo. Steve Lundy/for Sun-Times Media</p>

File photo. Steve Lundy/for Sun-Times Media

A law that attempts to regulate the trash scavenging business in Park Ridge will return before the Park Ridge City Council for further consideration next month.

The ordinance, which requires metal and garbage scavengers to be licensed with the city, was presented to elected officials during a Committee of the Whole meeting on Oct. 14. As part of the licensing process, applicants would undergo a criminal background check performed by the Park Ridge Police Department and pay a $50 annual licensing fee.

Licensing and enforcement would be handled by the Park Ridge Police Department. Anyone caught scavenging without the proper license can be fined.

Police Chief Frank Kaminski proposed the ordinance in response to incidents where metal items were stolen from front and rear yards or near an area where trash is normally collected. In the last two years, there have been 19 such complaints from residents.

“A girl was cutting her front lawn on the parkway with a lawnmower, she stopped in the middle, left it on the parkway and went into the house to get some water. As she came out, scrappers were putting the lawnmower into a truck and taking off,” Kaminski told the council. “She called us, we stopped them and we got the lawnmower back. They thought it was discarded.”

Other items that have been reported stolen over the last year have included patio furniture, barbecue grills and bicycles.

Kaminski acknowledged that theft from unscrupulous scavengers is not a major problem in the city, but there have been enough complaints that he wants “to at least have something on the books so we can deal with it.”

During the Oct. 14 City Council discussion, 3rd Ward Ald. Jim Smith questioned the clause that prohibits a license from being issued to anyone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor of felony offense within the last five years. Smith said this would include offenses ranging from prostitution to “selling cigarettes without a tax stamp.”

“So will this really protect us from having young ladies in hot pants and halters working as scavengers from committing petty theft? Will that solve the problem?” Smith asked.

Smith then suggested that the city require scavenger companies “to verify they’re not hiring illegal immigrants, or, secondly, we could have a test of understanding English for them.”

“I don’t see how any of that is relevant,” responded 2nd Ward Ald. Nicholas Milissis, who supported the ordinance as it was presented.

Smith further explained that someone who does not understand English well may inadvertently scavenge without a license because he or she is unaware of the city’s ordinance.

Mayor David Schmidt questioned if neighbors who decide to take a discarded item out of another neighbor’s trash would be impacted by the ordinance.

“I’m worried about unintended consequences,” he said.

City Clerk Betty Henneman pointed out that scavengers can be a benefit to a neighborhood.

“They were a very big asset during the time of the flooding,” she said. “They cleaned up a whole lot on our block.”

Other communities, like Niles, Barrington and Cary, also require scavengers to have a license from the municipality in which they are collecting.

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