The following article was submitted to Oconee Patch by Melissa Steele. She works closely with the Keep Oconee County Beautiful Commission.
With everyone so aware of where their money is going these days, I decided to focus this second article on how roadside litter costs us all tax dollars in the clean up effort.
I asked a series of questions to Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis, Director of Public Works Emil Beshara and Sheriff Scott Berry.
Mr. Beshara and Sheriff Berry answered the questions via email, but I personally spoke to Mr. Davis, so some of his responses are quoted and some are from my notes.
Please note that not every question was answered by every gentleman, and there are still some answers I’d like to have regarding fines and roadside beautification. I will try again after the event.
How much money does Oconee County spend each year on managing roadside litter?
Beshara: It is difficult to put a number to this, but I estimate somewhere in the $20,000 - $30,000 range. I base this on the facts that we have one regular employee who runs the litter detail as a portion of his regularly assigned duties and that we have to pay to dispose of the waste they collect.
Davis: The number is probably higher when you take into consideration not only hourly wage of that employee, but also gasoline expense, wear and tear on the vehicle, and time and expense of hauling debris to proper disposal sites. Because of economic hardships, staff reduction has eliminated some employees in the roads department that used to help with these tasks. This places litter as a lower priority versus more pressing road maintenance needs.
Other than being an eyesore and making our county look bad, are there other complications from roadside litter? Clogged drainage, other types of obstruction?
Beshara: Sometimes litter will clog storm drains, but mostly it is just an eyesore.
Davis: I hate seeing roadside litter and it casts a bad image on our community.
Who picks up roadside litter for the county?
Beshara: Road Department employee Mike Compton regularly runs litter pickup as a portion of his assigned duties.
Do we often use the prisoners for this task?
Beshara: We use inmates as often as the Sheriff’s Office is able to provide them to us.
Berry: We do roadside pick up when we have inmates to do so. The road department uses inmates to also remove dead animals and other eyesores from the roadway.
What do you think of the concept of our local court system assigning roadside litter pickups in addition to fines for traffic violations?
Beshara: I’d support that.
Davis: I am all for it! Let's make arrangements to have a meeting with the appropriate channels to put this in place.
Berry: Community service should include a roadside cleanup component.
Could KOCBC assist in participating in compliance of this option? (I, for one, would volunteer for this task!)
Beshara: Anyone is welcome to help us out.
Davis: I think we’d have no problem finding volunteers to help with follow-through on this task to make sure the community service obligations are fulfilled.
Pros and cons to this option?
Beshara: I don’t see any cons. I just hope that anyone who wants to help Keep Oconee County Beautiful is mindful of the hazards associated with roadway traffic. They need to wear appropriate safety vest and stay aware of approaching vehicles.
Davis: Public Works has large signs to alert passing traffic and also safety vests. Flashing light traffic obstacles to help slow traffic in pickup areas could also perhaps be used, and ask the Sheriff's Office to step up patrols in pick up areas if they are available to do so.
What happens to the roadside litter cleaned up by county workers?
Beshara: It is properly disposed of in a landfill and is paid for by the Sanitation division of Public Works
Do you think it would be possible for our local government to reward citizen cleanup efforts, for those who would be willing to collect roadside litter, to be able to receive refunds for recyclables, such as many states do (except for Georgia).
Beshara: They are welcome to collect all the recyclable litter they want to and deliver it to a local recycling center.
Davis: The local business JCD Bargain and Recycle offers cash for recyclable materials.
In what way could tax dollars currently being used for roadside cleanup possibly more efficiently be used for this method? (I personally like the idea of roadside Wildflower Program. They say it cuts down on littering because people are less likely to throw litter out among the flowers):
Beshara: Funds would not be needed if folks don’t litter. That would be for the BOC to decide.
How much is the fine for littering and why is it so infrequently enforced.
Beshara: The maximum fine for littering is currently $1,000. You need to talk to the Sheriff's Office about enforcement as that is their domain.
Davis: Enforcement is very difficult. People rarely report littering and even if they do, unless they get a tag number, it’s hard to catch offenders. And even if you do get a tag number, their littering action is extremely hard to prove. A warning letter can be sent out if tag number is obtained, but the only way to enforce the fine is if law enforcement catches someone in the act of littering or a citizen makes a “citizens arrest” and in this day and age one has to consider the personal safety in a situation like that.
Could the expense of hidden camera in bad litter areas pay for itself with the fines it would help collect?
Beshara: No. It would be costly to institute and hugely expensive to monitor.
Davis: It’s more costly than the revenue it would collect.
I thank these gentlemen for their cooperation in answering these questions.
I encourage you all to check this website for more information about how much litter costs Georgians, and how you can help by becoming involved in litter prevention, education, and even something as simple as purchasing the Wildflower license plate for your automobiles. The roadside beautification efforts are not costly and they greatly reduce littering! This is such an interesting concept that I plan to follow up with another article on this subject.
Again, The Great Oconee Clean Up Kick Off Event is April 21 at the Oconee County Library at 9 a.m. and runs for a month! Please Make An Effort To Make A Difference!....and on behalf of Keep Oconee Clean And Beautiful Commission, THANK YOU FOR YOUR HELP!
I leave you with one more quote from Sheriff Berry: “We will kick off the clean up event on April 20th with an inmate work detail. Hopefully we can keep Oconee beautiful, and remind everyone that we need to work together to keep this the best place to live, work and play in Georgia."