In a bid to clean up Decatur, a city councilman wants to crack down on people who litter and hold business owners accountable for garbage that accumulates on their properties.
District 4 Councilman Charles Kirby wants the city to consider levying the maximum penalty on those caught littering to “make an example out of them” and show residents and visitors Decatur is serious about addressing the issue.
“We should send the message, ‘If you dump on the city of Decatur, we will dump on you,’ in the sense we are going to fine and punish you for doing it,” Kirby said.
Someone cited for “littering on the highway” in Decatur can be issued a $262 ticket, of which $100 is for the fine and $162 for court costs. That fee schedule is set by the state Legislature, Decatur Municipal Court Clerk Jessica Hayes said.
The maximum fine an Alabama judge can assess for littering is $500, City Attorney Herman Marks said.
“The judge could decide to put you in jail for littering,” Marks said.
In the past three years, only six municipal littering citations have been issued: none in 2012, two in 2011 and four in 2010, municipal court records show. Kirby wants Decatur to talk to its legislative delegation about strengthening state litter laws and passing a container-deposit law that 11 other states have enacted.
“Bottle bills” charge a fee per container when it’s sold. That fee, typically 5 cents or more, is refunded when the container is turned in to a recycling center.
Many residents have complained that Decatur needs to make maintenance and upkeep a priority as it tries to attract businesses, families and visitors.
Nearly two years after $900,000 in funding was cut from Parks and Recreation — the agency tasked with keeping the city clean and manicured — the city has yet to replace it. Councilmen said they plan to add funding for maintenance during the mid-fiscal year review in May.
“I don’t want to be negative about my hometown with so many good things going on, but I think the city and its citizens could do a better job cleaning up,” lifelong resident Sally Maynor said. “It’s not the city’s job to pick up litter in your front yard. You should have enough sense to do that yourself. But along the roads, (the city) needs to step it up.”
Some residents have proposed making those charged with littering pick up trash along highways alongside Morgan County inmates. Kirby said he favors the idea, but it’s not a simple fix.
“The problem is littering in Decatur is considered a non-criminal act, and we need to change our attitude as a community about that,” Kirby said. “We live in a heavy-commuter area, so many of the people throwing out trash and cigarette butts from their car windows don’t live here. But they look around and think it’s not a big deal.”
Kirby said out-of-town property owners, whether in their businesses or homes, play a large role in places becoming unkept. The number of complaints handled by the Community Development Department annually back that up: Half of the 1,500 private property complaints for violating the city weed, junk and litter ordinance stem from absentee property owners, code enforcement officer David Lee said.
Kirby proposes creating a database with contacts for shopping centers, strip malls and other businesses so responsible parties can be notified if trash accumulates on their properties. Since disposable cups, wrappers and bags from fast food restaurants make up the bulk of litter around town, those businesses should be involved too, he said.
“The city should be doing some kind of inspection — whether it’s through Community Development or simply police driving by and seeing it — and making the phone call to let someone know about it so it gets cleaned up,” he said.
Tiffeny Owens can be reached at 256-340-2440 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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