Illegal dumping is a problem affecting many parts of the City of Rockford, so much that it’s costing the City thousands of dollars to get a handle on it.
“I’m going to take you to a regular dumping spot, which we have cleaned,” said O.T. Molina, a Code Enforcement Officer for the City of Rockford. He took this reporter to the old Rock River Elementary School on Kishwaukee, where we found a pile of garbage piled on the lawn, including used syringes, old mattresses, and discarded toys.
“You can find really anything on any given day,” Molina said, insisting garbage dumps like this are a common scene across the city. “I would say, every time we see a dumping site, there’s always drywall.”
Rock River Elementary has been closed for more than a decade. “No one is going to want to develop this building,” Molina said.
Illegal dump sites are a major issue facing the city. On average, city code workers clean up 50 dumping sites per year, from alleys and vacant buildings, to residential neighborhoods.
The city spent over $85,000 in 2017 when property owners failed to comply with cleanup efforts.
“The first thing I like to look for [are] any boxes with shipping labels, or evidence of mail, to see possibly where it came from,” said Robert Wilhelmi, Supervisor of the city’s Neighborhood Standards Department.
He admits that getting property owners to remove garbage, even if they aren’t responsible for it, can often be a challenge.
“Typically, a clean-up for a situation like this – you’re looking at about $1,000 that we have to contract out to a bidding contractor to perform the work,” Wilhelmi said.
Molina knows the importance of working with residents to form a better community. He’s actually a part-time police officer on the weekends, which he feels gives him a unique perspective when approaching residents.
“A lot of people think we knock on their door, we have a badge on, and it’s ‘oh man, it’s the people with the badges, they’re coming to harass us.’ We get that a lot. But that’s not at all what we do. We are trying to get the city clean.”
City code officers say that if anyone sees a case of illegal dumping, call the Neighborhood Standards Department at 779-348-7160. All callers will remain anonymous.