During the big moving weekend Aug. 14, George Dreckmann noticed lots of metal scavengers out prowling the streets. Dreckmann, Madison's recycling coordinator, stopped one pickup he saw loaded down with scrap and told the pilferers to knock it off. It's illegal to scavenge from city bins and street curbs.
Dreckmann isn't concerned about students looking for free furniture, but about a growing trend: people looking for scrap metal to sell. These scavengers are taking whatever metal they can find: futon and bed frames, washers and driers, refrigerators and lamps. Some even smash open old TVs to tear out the copper wire.
And it's costing the city money. Dreckmann says collections of these types of metals are down at least $17,500 from last year. Last year, they were down $20,000 from 2009.
"It's not some homeless guy going down the street picking up aluminum cans [from trash bins]," says Dreckmann, though he notes that's also illegal and costs the city money. "In all fairness, I think they don't know it's illegal."
A first offense is punishable by a fine of $50 to $200. A second offense within a year carries a fine of $100 to $500.
The reduction in revenue will have noticeable effects on other city services this fall, Dreckmann says. About this time each year, Dreckmann is getting ready to hire three new workers for a crew to help with fall leaf collection and then winter snow plowing. With the loss of funds, "We won't be able to hire people now until November, barely in time to get them on board to train them for snowplowing," he says.