Sunday's Indianapolis Star brought some news that doesn't surprise me in the least. The Star analyzed the length of time it took for the Mayor's Action Center to respond to resident complaints - potholes, trash problems and the like. The results indicated something several of my neighbors have complained about for years; the city doesn't respond as quickly to complaints from older, poorer neighborhoods as it does to the more wealthy areas.
The Star examined records for more than 60,000 calls made to the MAC in 2007 and 2008 from all parts of the city to compare the times it took to resolve complaints about chuckholes, trash, abandoned vehicles and animals. The review found:
- Overall, residents in the poorest neighborhoods had to wait about 14 days longer to have a complaint resolved than residents in the wealthiest areas. The percentage of complaints that took 90 days or more to settle was three times higher in the poorest areas.
- The biggest difference in average resolution times -- 42 days -- involved trash complaints. In the poorest areas, it took an average of 48 days; in the wealthiest areas, just six days. The percentage that took 90 days or more to settle was nearly 20 times higher in the poorest neighborhoods.
- Residents in the lowest-income neighborhoods had to wait about 18 days longer for chuckhole repairs. The percentage of complaints that took 90 days or more to settle was almost two times higher in the poorest areas.
We live in an older neighborhood and this reminds me of an incident that happened to us last summer.
Since we're homeowners, the city provides with a large trash can. It sits in the alley and, like all the others on our block, has our house number spray painted on it.
Our trash can broke the second week we moved in (June 2007); the wheels fell off and the bottom cracked after the trash truck went nuts and slammed it on the ground a few times. I called the Mayor's Action Center and requested a new trash can. I called a few times about it and was promised a new container, but it never happened. Since ours still stood there and held trash, I didn't bother to stay on top of it.
In early summer last year, our trash can was stolen - one day it's there and the next it's gone completely. I called the MAC to report it and request a new one. They told us we had to call the police and report the can stolen before they would help. We dutifully called the cops and filed a report.
When we called the MAC back and gave them the case number, they assured us we'd have a trash can that week. It never came.
Instead, the trash service stopped picking up our trash entirely. If your bagged trash isn't in a city-approved container, the garbage truck can't use the big arm to grab it like a can. Of course, we called back and asked about our container since the next week we'd have twice as much trash to fit into one bin. Again, they assured us the trash can would be there in time. It never came.
Over and over this scenario played out for two months. In the summer. We would store our trash in our garage and the night before garbage pick up, we'd sneak around the alley like thieves dumping our waste into our neighbors' unfilled trash cans. When the neighborhood was full, we were stuck with the bags until the next week when we could try again. Obviously, there was backup.
We called. And called. And called. Every time they acted surprised that we'd "fallen through the cracks" and assured us a new can was on its way. It never came.
Our garage stunk and was full of trash and the city kept coming up with reason after reason as to why they'd forgotten to send a manual pick up truck or the new garbage bin hadn't shown up. Finally, we called a City-County Councilor and asked for intervention.
Within two days all of our old trash had been picked up and a bright shiny new plastic bin was sitting in the alley waiting to be spoiled with rotten eggs and kitty litter.
The article gives us a bit of back story on what happened last summer:
The disparity in trash complaints likely is the result of delays in the city responding to requests for new trash containers, said Shawn Brock, DPW assistant manager for solid waste management.
Some delays were particularly long last year, he said, because the city ran out of 96-gallon containers and had to put out bids for new ones. A flaw in the process forced the purchase to be put out for bid again, lengthening the delay.
Brock said a large number of those waiting for the new containers were in Center Township, which has a high percentage of the city's low-income neighborhoods. The switch to those new containers has not been rolled out in many other parts of the county.
It would have been nice to have one of the MAC operators tell us about this, but what the hell - better late than never. Now if they'd just get around to fixing the potholes in a reasonable amount of time. Here's hoping the median home value in our neighborhood goes up...