AUBURN — Police will be watching for junk-laden cars in May, trying to catch out-of-town people leaving trash curbside and people who pick through the piles before city crews can get to them.
"We're not trying to be difficult, but we are trying to be watchful of taxpayer dollars," City Manager Glenn Aho said. "We want to make sure that the people who are getting the service are actually the ones getting it and that the city actually gets what it's paying for."
Spring cleanup, Auburn's annual curbside collection program, is scheduled to begin in mid-May. Residents are allowed to leave old appliances, building materials, brush and household refuse at the curb. City crews collect those things and sell what they can, recycling what's left.
"It's one service the city provides that people actually see as a tangible benefit," Aho said. "People don't always see the benefits from a fire department or police, but they do from this."
But the service has been abused in the past, Aho said. Residents and city officials alike suspect that people living outside Auburn drive in and leave their trash curbside.
The piles of refuse are an attractive target for garbage pickers, who pull out old copper pipes and power cords, metal and other things that can be sold.
Those are the very things the city wants to sell to pay for the cost of curbside collections.
"We lose that revenue," Aho said. "Of course, it depends on the market for metals, but it can mean quite a bit of revenue for the city."
The pickers make it more difficult for city crews to collect the piles, Aho said.
"We need to be in and out, efficiently, to pick up the stuff and go," he said. "People usually put their piles out neatly, but the pickers tend to come through and throw things all over the place. That makes a mess, and it slows us down."
Police will be on the lookout for both groups, he said.
"They tend to stick out like sore thumbs, with trucks full of junk," Aho said. "That's what our patrol officers are going to be looking for. If you are driving through town with a bunch of junk in your truck, you can count on getting stopped and questioned."
Deputy Police Chief Jason Moen said such people can be charged with violating a city ordinance, with fines set by a judge.
"In both instances, it may be a matter of catching them in the act," Moen said. "We'll be out there, but we're asking our residents to be proactive. If they see a truck pulled up someplace, it gives us a good reason to stop and talk to them and find out what they're doing."