The issue of the year in the Town of Cheektowaga for 2012 – garbage totes – was rolled out again this week before the Town Board at its first regular meeting of the new year.

The meeting’s public comment session was dominated by complaints from residents about the many problems they were experiencing with the new plastic trash receptacles since the program officially went into effect Dec. 17.

The list of grievances ranged from town sanitation crews leaving the large 95-gallon containers in the path of traffic on some streets or failing to close the lids on them, to difficulties in maneuvering the receptacles and problems with storing them.

“The larger totes are absolutely impossible to get into our garages,” said Connie Pieszchala, a resident of the Hickory Grove patio homes where residents must, by association rules, stow away the receptacles. Those homes already have the smaller 65-gallon totes, which will be available to others in town this spring.

Pieszchala accused town officials of tuning out requests from residents to make even smaller 37-gallon totes available and being untruthful that town sanitation trucks are, in fact, equipped to handle them. Her husband, Kurt Oertelt, the association’s president, said elderly residents at Hickory Grove are having a tough time with the new totes. Oertelt said in one instance he’s done garage repairs after one resident tore off the tracks and framing trying to navigate out and around the tote.

Council Member Gerald P. Kaminski was given some photos from one resident showing the totes clearly in the street. Kaminski said the sanitation workers were verbally reprimanded.

On the flip side, town officials pointed out that residents, themselves, weren’t doing such a great job adapting to the changes in how garbage is collected in town.

Residents, according to Kaminski – who has been accompanying crews on routes the last several weeks – have been breaking the rules by improperly disposing of garbage both inside and outside of the totes.

Kaminski said he’s received several complaint calls from residents, including one about sanitation crews leaving a broken mirror in a resident’s yard. The mirror was just thrown into the tote with the trash, however, Kaminski said.

In another case, a resident complained that crews failed to retrieve some of his trash. Later, after visiting the house, Kaminski learned the items were large wooden doors, outside of the 40-inch limit that crews are required to pick up curbside.

On top of that, residents have used the totes to improperly dispose of electronic equipment including TVs and computers, paint, kitty litter and unbagged loose trash, including kitchen wastes like cooked vegetables and chicken bones, Kaminski said. “It’s unbelievable what you find in them,” he said.

To this point, the town has chalked up the early bugs with the program to a learning curve. Kaminski believes change will only happen, however, when the town starts cracking down. Expect that to start around Feb. 1. “We’re going to have to start citing people. That’s the only way we’re going to clean everything up,” Kaminski said. “It has to be done. You have to educate people. The only way they get the message is if you hit them in the wallet.”