County seeks solutions to tackle litter problem

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: April 8, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.

Supervisors consider methods to help beautify county

PRINCE GEORGE – Despite the county’s efforts to get various infrastructural elements in place and make the right pitch to lure business prospects to Prince George, county appearance can be a make-or-break factor in a business, or even a prospective resident wanting to move to the area and, for county staff, they see a need to address what has become a major issue across Prince George – litter.

That was one of the comments and questions posed to supervisors by County Administrator Percy Ashcraft as leaders listened to a proposal to contract out litter removal services in an effort to tackle a number of problem areas across the county, where trash and other debris has accumulated and become unsightly.

“I would have to ask everyone, what is the cost of your county not looking good, what is the image that is being presented, and what are the outcomes when people are considering moving here or a business wants to locate here,” he remarked.

He added that, while their work is appreciated, the county can “no longer rely totally” on the Virginia Department of Transportation and their efforts to carry out litter removal activities or those who take part in “Adopt-A-Highway” programs, remarking that some adopters are more active, holding clean-ups along their adopted stretches of roadways a few times a year, while others aren’t as active. 

According to the state transportation agency, VDOT conducts mowing and litter removal on a vast majority of interstate and other limited access roads, along with most primary routes and secondary routes in counties served by VDOT. 

They also partner with the Keep Virginia Beautiful program through the well-known “Adopt-A-Highway” service. According to an FAQ page on VDOT’s website, AAH volunteers agree to pick up litter “at least two times a year for three years over a two-mile stretch of highway,” with participants encouraged to “schedule one fo their two yearly pickups during April to coincide with ‘Earth Day’ or in the fall to coincide with the autumn “Day to Serve.”

In exchange for their service, VDOT provides “trash bags, vests, important safety information, and highway signs” for volunteers taking part in the program.

While the county is thankful for both VDOT and the AAH program and the work that is done to curb litter, Ashcraft and his staff suggested that the county consider using some of the property maintenance funds in the grass cutting services budget to also allow for the contracting out of litter removal services. 

According to the county’s director of community development Julie Walton, the idea would be to use those funds in the grass cutting services budget, which totals $10,000 and whose expenditures do not approach that level, to contract out litter removal services to roughly three to four vendors and perform a rotation of services between them.

She noted while the property maintenance line item in the budget allows for the county to perform services like grass cutting on properties deemed to be in violation of county code in regards to upkeep and then bill the property owner to recoup the costs, roadside litter removal would not see any such recoveries. 

While all the supervisors agreed something needs to be done in regards to litter in the county, the question of using inmates at Riverside Regional Jail was brought up by county leaders but, local law enforcement said there are some challenges within the jail that make utilizing inmate labor difficult.

According to Prince George County Police Chief Keith Early, while he couldn’t speak intimately about the ins and outs of the regional jail’s operations, he said he has been told that staffing issues on the jail’s end are the primary reason why inmates aren’t used as often.

“The best I can recall, they didn’t have the resources to transport the work release inmates, monitor them, then bring them back to the jail,” Early said, with Ashcraft adding on, “We can certainly continue to make that inquiry but, it just hasn’t been successful.”

For Vice-Chair Floyd Brown, Jr., the issue of beautification went beyond pure aesthetics, suggesting the county’s reputation could be harmed by the appearance of the county’s roads littered with trash and other debris.

“We are going to have to get off the pot because it is not getting any better and I don’t want to send the wrong message that Prince George County is a locality where you can just ride down the road and throw your trash out,” he remarked. “I have heard the comments of opportunities that we have lost in real estate, where people were brought here and they looked at housing, saw the trash, and they said no.”

Brown continued, “I think we have to look at doing something, even if it is short-term. It’s bad and it’s not getting better, its getting worse day-by-day.”

While talk of implementing contractual litter removal with vendors was discussed, so too was enforcement. State law says it is illegal “for any person to dump or otherwise dispose of trash, garbage, refuse, litter …  for the purpose of disposal, or other unsightly matter on public property, including a public highway, right-of-way, or property adjacent to such highway or right-of-way, or on private property without the written consent of the owner or his agent.”

That law adds if a person has been observed to be illegally dumping and that trash has either been ejected or removed from the vehicle, “the owner or operator of the motor vehicle shall be presumed to be the person ejecting or disposing” of the refuse unless that can be rebutted by competent evidence. 

The penalty for violating this law would be a misdemeanor punishable up to one year in jail and a fine as low as $250 or as high as $2,500, either or both. The court, instead of a jail sentence, can require those convicted of violating this law to “perform a mandatory minimum of 10 hours of community service in litter abatement activities.”

When asked, while Early agreed he and his officers share the county’s concerns and frustrations with litter, tackling the issue through enforcement alone may not be the best use of current resources in such an expansive county, which measures over 280 square miles.

“We have a large county and few officers in that large county who have a lot of responsibilities,” Chief Early explained. “So clearly, to attack through enforcement that is as widespread as litter… our officers certainly do enforce litter laws when it is observed and illegal dumping is investigated, but I think enforcement is just a small part in the overall scheme of how to address this problem.”

Supervisors added concerns from residents who would have to testify in court and the person who the complaint has been filed against would know who exact levied the claim against them may also contribute to people opting to not report observed littering in the community.

Following their discussion, Walton said, when she prepares her proposal for vendors, her office will add litter removal to the scope of services sought by the county as part of their property maintenance efforts. 

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