PRESCOTT – Couches sporting burned-out cushions. Washers and dryers that don't work. Clothing that already had seen better days in the 1980s.
These are the items that greet Bill Fleischer almost every morning when he gets to his job as manager of the Disabled American Veterans Thrift Store on Fifth Street.
To be sure, donated items are the lifeblood of thrift stores. People drop off their old or unused items, and the non-profit thrift stores resell the items to make money for their respective charities.
But not every discarded item has resale potential. And sometimes, the people who own those items decide to drop off the damaged goods when no one is around to do an inspection.
"It happens two or three times a day," Fleischer said of the dumping of unwanted items. "People throw things over our fence, leave mattresses on the ground, and drop off refrigerators and washing machines."
More often than not, the items that people dump on the street in front of the building have to be hauled away to the city's transfer station.
"You'll find some good stuff," Fleischer said, "but a lot of times, it's couches that are soiled or have rips in them, a console TV that doesn't work, or really old clothing."
For the DAV Thrift Store, the only option is to load up the junk and take it to the city's transfer station for disposal.
"We probably spend $3,000 to $5,000 a year to take this stuff to the dump," Fleischer said.
Although the City of Prescott allows nonprofit organizations to dump a full load at the transfer station for a drastically reduced rate of $1, Fleischer pointed out that the thrift store still has to pay the costs of loading up the truck and transporting it out to the Sundog Ranch Road station.
The Salvation Army Thrift Store on Montezuma Street faces a similar problem. Manager Randy Kemper said the organization spends about $1,000 a month just hauling the unusable items away.
Even so, Kemper emphasizes that most of the people who drop things off at the Salvation Army Thrift Store are generous, considerate contributors.
"Probably 99.9 percent of the people do it exactly the way we would have them do it," Kemper said of the donations. "We don't exist without donations. But there are always a few people who don't follow the rules."
The rules – and indeed the city's ordinances – prohibit dumping items at the fence or in the alley of the thrift stores after regular store hours. It is considered illegal dumping to do so.
Part of the problem for the Salvation Army stems from the mess that can occur when people drop things off after hours in the alley behind the store, and others then come by to scavenge through the items.
"People scatter it all over, and a lot of it gets ruined," Kemper said.
He estimated that illegal dumping occurs at the Salvation Army store "easily three to four times a week."
Both the DAV and the Salvation Army have signs on their fences, notifying people that after-hour dumping is illegal. But people ignore the signs and dump anyway.
Rob Waskow, solid waste superintendent for the city, agreed that the illegal dumping problem goes on at most of the thrift stores in the area.
But he said it is a problem that is hard to contain through public information or enforcement.
"I think people already know it's wrong," Waskow said. "And enforcement is pretty tough, because we can't keep an eye constantly on these pieces of property."
Often, city officials can trace illegally dumped household garbage by finding mail or other identifying items. On the other hand, large items such as furniture and appliances usually do not have such identification.
The irony is that it usually isn't a hardship for the owners of the items to simply take their garbage to the transfer station. Waskow pointed out that disposing of a 100-pound item would cost about $2.60. Disposing of an appliance would cost about $3 at the transfer station.
Kemper agreed there isn't much that the city or the thrift store operators can do about the problem. "We just deal with it, because we don't really have a lot of options," he said.