EASTON — Providing services to town residents while addressing limitations of the disabled prompted conflicting responses at the Nov. 4 Easton Town Council meeting.
Council members debated whether the town government should take on the role of assisting disabled residents.
The discussion arose from the request of a disabled Easton resident, Helen Knight-Griffin, who spoke at the Oct. 21 town council meeting about her difficulty with town trash removal.
At that meeting, she requested the town retrieve the trash container beside her house each week, move it to the garbage truck, dump the contents of the container into the garbage truck and return the empty trash container to the side of her house. She posted a video depicting her struggle to transport her trash to the curb on a local Facebook group’s page (Editor’s note: this video can be viewed at stardem.com)
Knight-Griffin suggested the town look into using a “backdoor garbage service,” in which trash and recyclables are collected directly from the home instead of requiring the resident to bring to them to the curb.
The city of Knoxville, Tenn., for example, makes the service available for free for those who are eligible and qualify.
Easton Town Council President John Ford at the Oct. 21 meeting said sending a town employee onto private property is a liability issue but that the council wanted to find a way to help her.
Knight-Griffin said her correspondence with the town regarding the issue dates back to August 2018. She also attended the Nov. 4 meeting but did not speak.
Town Attorney Sharon Van Emburgh presented Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines to the council and shared her legal opinion on the matter. The guidelines “do not require a public entity to take any action that it can demonstrate would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of a service, program or activity or an undue financial and administrative burden.”
Van Emburgh concluded the town is not legally required to provide such a service to Knight-Griffin.
Town Council President John Ford questioned whether the council should provide the service anyway. “As council members we are representative of the people in the town, and we’re here to assist them in ways that we can,” Ford said.
Van Emburgh made several suggestions if the council were to move forward, like providing a town-approved form for physicians, a waiver for town personnel entering onto private properties and ensuring no safety hazards were present, among other suggestions.
She noted the significant elderly population in Easton, saying it “could be quite a volume of houses,” which could financially burden the town and extend the time necessary to complete trash pick-up.
Council Member Al Silverstein questioned whether all other options were exhausted, and suggested reaching out to community service organizations for case-by-case assistance.
“I would be willing to work with (Richardson) to try to find an organization; there’s enough between senior centers and other things,” Silverstein said. “I want to see this person helped.”
Council Member Ron Engle noted Knight-Griffin has a 99-gallon can and suggested smaller cans supplied by the town be made available instead.
“We are here for the benefit of the citizens, and this is a service that I think we can provide for the applicant,” said Council Member Megan Cook.
“I understand we may be opening the floodgates, but I think we should do it on a trial basis,” Cook said. “There are other communities in the country that are doing this successfully; I don’t see why Easton can’t be one of those communities.”
She favored the town providing the service instead of service organizations in terms of their reliability.
“There are hurdles, but I think they can be overcome,” Cook said.
Council Member Don Abbatiello advised the council to get an idea of what the service would actually look like before agreeing to anything.
Mayor Robert Willey said that though the original request was pertaining to trash removal, he expected more phone calls would be requesting shoveling out residents’ sidewalks and driveways in the snow.
Town Manager Don Richardson suggested an economic impact study and for the council to discuss the matter at the town council’s Dec. 1 meeting. Town staff is also examining other jurisdictions’ programs across the country.