Supes explore new approaches to litter control

August 17, 2013 9:16:19 PM

Nathan Gregory - [email protected]


County administrator Ralph Billingsley said he's seeking input from all supervisors about the new options to run its litter-control program in the wake of the May retirement of community services coordinator Sylvester Harris. 


Since Harris' retirement, the county's summer litter control program, which uses high school students to pick up litter and perform other tasks and community services program, has been operating as usual.  


Billlingsley says there are options available that might include not filing Harris' position. 


"It's ultimately my recommendation as the administrator. I have not made a decision on it. I really do want the feedback," Billingsley said. "I have some ideas I really think might be good, but I haven't had a chance to talk to everybody." 


The summer litter control program, which pays 10 high school students over a nine-to-10-week period to pick up litter, ended Aug. 7. Billingsley said it was a success because the program was tweaked to split the group into two five-person crews, which allowed for more widespread coverage. During that period, all the community service workers went to Columbus-Lowndes Parks and Recreation, where they were used in various facilities, Billingsley said.  


"During this time we always have run a litter control through the community service program and they did things other than litter control as well," he said. "The sheriff, through their adult detention center, runs a trustee crew that picks up litter as well." 


Yet litter control is still a major issue, District 4 supervisor Jeff Smith told the board at its last meeting. Smith said in four community meetings he presided over last month, the main talking point was garbage. It's time to have someone new in place who can use community services to address more areas, he said. 


"One of the things that has been consistently discussed everywhere I've gone is the litter that's on the county roads," Smith said. "I want to encourage the soon as we possibly can to look at addressing that concern. Ralph and I did talk...I've gone up and down the county roads over the past couple of days and everywhere I go, there's an issue with litter." 


After the meeting, board president Harry Sanders said he wanted to talk to justice court judges to make sure there was enough people during the week who could work off fines to satisfy the need. 


"I think we can probably hire one of the people who supervised the students this summer as a full-time employee, so we wouldn't have to hire but one other person. What we'd have to watch out for is salary increases. After people have been here, we have a tendency to give everybody a 50-cent-an-hour raise, everybody a dollar raise, and everybody in the county a raise all at one time," Sanders said. "When you get a non-skilled person that all they need to do is pick up litter, if they've been here 15 years working and all of a sudden they're making $20 because of all the raises we've given during the years, we don't want to do that. We're going to have to be really careful on how we structure this." 


Sanders said he spoke with road manager Ronnie Burns, who said he would be able to do some supervising as long as funding for employees wouldn't have to come out of his department budget.  


A fund balance of garbage fees could solve that problem. 


"We have a garbage fee that we charge everybody in the county $12 a month for garbage. That account has a fund balance in it of about $300,000," Sanders said. "That money can't be used for anything except garbage. If we classify litter on the roads as garbage, I think we can probably pay the salary of these people out of that fund so we won't have to raise taxes." 


Billingsley said after the meeting he was frustrated with the amount manpower and taxpayer dollars that is used each year just for litter control.  


"At some point we've got to do something to get people to quit littering on our highways and county roads," he said. "It drives me crazy that we spend tens of thousands of dollars of money picking something up that should not have been there to start with. That's nuts. We can take all these man-hours and all this money and we can do something productive for the taxpayers." 


District 5 supervisor Leroy Brooks said he'd be happy to discuss ideas about what to do about the situation with Billingsley on the condition he hasn't already "made up (his) mind." 


"This whole notion about public awareness and discouraging people, I've been up here 30 years and it ain't worked," Brooks said. "The other thing is when you say you've got some ideas, sometimes you make up your mind and there ain't no use in anybody coming. If it's going to be an open dialogue and we're going to take some input, it's worth taking my time. But all too often you have already made up your mind and somebody's gotten to you first and whatever anyone else says falls on deaf ears."

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.