Madison seeks tightening rules on ‘abandoned’ bags, property

Ordinance proposed for safety likely to affect homeless

Cari Chadwick just started living on the streets a couple of months ago. She carries one backpack as her friends are schlepping bags upon bags of personal belongings.

Chadwick said most of her stuff is at her mom’s house, but many in the homeless community don’t have the same space or resources.

“There really isn’t any option for anybody else. It’s just, you know, hard itself,” Chadwick said.

It’s common to see things stashed around Madison’s City Hall. A pair of small wagons were parked right behind a trashcan Friday, covered in tarps and bound tightly by shoelaces. It’s that kind of property left behind by its owners that the city might soon be setting new rules on.

An ordinance co-sponsored by Ald. John Strasser, District 14, would set more uniform guidelines concerning city workers and how they handle lost and abandoned property.

“If somebody’s not in possession of it, then the city can take possession of it,” Strasser said.

Strasser said the proposal is meant to address public safety concerns, especially after the backpack bombings during the Boston Marathon.

Backpack ordinance pitched in Madison

As the ordinance is written now, Strasser said anyone on Madison’s payroll would be able to pick up property that seems to be lost or abandoned as they go about their day-to-day business.

“The presumption is the city is not going to be going out and looking for property,” Strasser said. “This is going to be property that it comes across in their daily routine.”

Strasser said workers could destroy or throw away items less than $50 in value. He specified that means a collective item, so if a bag or backpack contained individual pieces of property that total more than $50 together, it cannot be tossed.

Anything worth more than $50 would be turned in to the city, where it would be held for 30 days to be reclaimed.

Strasser said if the public is informed of the new city policy, there should be no question where lost items end up.

“Chances are you’re going to have a much better chance of recovering it under this program than under existing programs,” Strasser said.

Strasser stressed that the ordinance has to make it through three committees and multiple public hearings before it reaches City Council for final approval. That said, there may be a number of changes made in the necessary value of property or how long the hold period lasts.

Strasser added he was reassured this measure would not target the homeless, but said it would likely affect that community the most.

With her own backpack close by, Chadwick said this so-called backpack ordinance is not the way to ensure public safety.

“I mean if there is someone with a bomb in a bag, you know, then bust them,” Chadwick said. “Don’t make it hard for everybody else.”

The ordinance is scheduled to make its first appearance at City Council during the regular meeting on Tuesday, June 4.