Discussion of mandatory garbage service, ticket writing planned at next work session

The Walker County Commission is setting up a 10 a.m. work session on Thursday, March 15, to discuss litter and solid waste issues, including possible mandatory garbage pickup and ticket writing for illegal dumping, as well as to review the continuing problems with the county budget. A regular meeting of the council is set for the following Monday. District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis said action may be taken at that meeting, based on discussion from the work session. The work session was set at Monday’s meeting, where Davis chaired the meeting. Chairman Jerry Bishop and District 3 Commissioner Ralph Williams were absent during Monday’s 30-minute meeting. Officials said Bishop was wanting to call the work session to deal with litter, solid waste the ongoing problems with the General Fund. It was those problems related to the $1.5 million now needed annually to pay for debt that caused the commission to set up an unsuccessful referendum for a 1-cent sales tax increase last August. Since the defeat of the tax, the commission has enacted or looked at cuts or savings, as principal payments are being paid beginning this year. In the discussion time at the end of the meeting, District 2 Commissioner Jeff Burrough said his district would devote more time for litter pickup, using work release inmates and regular staff. “It’s an eyesore wherever you go,” he said. He asked for the Walker County Solid Waste Department to gather data from other counties concerning mandatory countywide garbage pickup and the fees that might be involved. “I would like to bring it up (at the work session). I haven’t discussed it with anybody,” he said. District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt said he is starting to work on a school program to educate students about the problems with littering and what they can do about it. “We’ll talk about it more in the months to come,” he said. “It’s a generational issue. We’ve got to start teaching kids at a younger age.”He added littering is not an acceptable thing to do and the only way to combat it is to get into the schools to educate young people. Davis said he was in Montgomery when the commission discussed the litter issue at its last meeting. While in Montgomery, he was involved with the leadership program put on by the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, watching the Alabama Legislature in session. He also noted that he had good meetings with Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper, and state Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, about the litter issue and other issues. “They have both committed to help us going forward, of courses, and work with us on issues we’ve got,” he said. “Sen. Reed is working on some things right now that hopefully we will be able to make public soon that will greatly benefit the county. I commend them both for the work that they do.” Davis said littering is a major issue at the moment. “Just in the past few weeks, it seems like it has really, really gotten out of hand,” in part due to the weather, he said. “Some of the state roads are in really bad condition.” In District 1, a pick up crew is run six days a week, with one-full time worker running it. Other workers are rotated to work the program on Saturdays. Two to four work release prisoners are used each day, although four to six are run on Saturdays. “You pick up a Burrow’s Crossing. It takes them all day Saturday. By Monday morning, it needs picking up again,” he said. Davis said the problem is worse in the winter when the mowers are not running, as the mowers chew up the trash. He understands people are looking to the commission for leadership on the issue.

However, he doesn’t agee with people blaming the commission for the litter problem, saying the county is doing the best it can with the manpower and budget that it has to keep the county clean. “We simply need the people who are the problem and who are the issue to stop throwing the paper out. Period,” he said. “We need law enforcement, if they see it, to write the citations and the tickets and the DA will prosecute those people.” He said illegal dumping will also be discussed at length on March 15. “I love this county. We should take pride in the county. Throwing a Jack’s cup or whatever litter you are throwing out the window is not taking pride in your county,” he said, adding that Aderholt’s education idea is a great idea. Davis said the commission is open to ideas from the public, asking the public to get together on the problem. He has seen ideas online through social media and others have contacted him, all willing to help on the issue. Turning to finances, Burrough and Davis thanked members of the Walker County Civil Service Board for making changes and reforms. Davis said those changes have changed hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars over the past year, while working with employees and the commission. “You need to be commended for that,” Davis said. Davis went on to say the county’s budgets are tight. “The debt payment was made the second week in February,” he said. “When me and (Revenue Auditor Robbie Dickerson) looked at the bill, it was $1.2 million, the first part of the debt payment. The additional payment comes later this summer. You look at that, and my first thought was, ‘Man, what we could do with this extra $1.2 million instead of paying the debt that was taken out in 2002.’ Now, we’ve made the payment. Everything has been leading up to making the payment, and everything we do on a daily basis is to keep the county’s lights on and keep us out of the bankruptcy court. “The 15th is crucial. We do have some departments who are trending over budget and there is no reserve for that. We’re going to have to take some budgetary issues and decisions,” he said, pointing out the March 19 meeting for possible action. Davis in January pointed to the Sheriff’s Department and the Walker County Jail as being the departments who are trending over budget by a combined $200,000 for the end of the fiscal year in September. Other departments were said to be in line with the budgets. Davis said after 16 weeks, the Sheriff’s Department and jail had spent 34 percent of their budgets, but should have been at 31 percent. He said the budget essentially has no surplus funds to use for deficit spending, as opposed to past years. Walker County Sheriff Jim Underwood has said the county is not providing adequate funding to those departments and has sued the county on funding overall. Underwood has also sued as the county wants to move feeding prisoners from the General Fund to the sheriff, as is done in many counties. Underwood has maintained that his department does not have the staffing or funds to take on that responsibility. A judge has ordered the county continue feeding the prisoners for the time being, with a hearing on a final resolution expected soon. After the meeting, Davis was asked if he discussed the county’s financial issues with the legislators, he said he gave Reed and Rowe an update on the situation, including the fact the debt payment was made. “We’re going to make it to October. I don’t know what October is going to look like,” Davis said. “I just met with them to give them an update, and we discussed the things they are working on. They are very active and very involved and very concerned, of course, on what is going on financially. They are very helpful and very involved.”  He said the upcoming discussion on solid waste at the March 15 meeting may tie in with the litter issue, in terms of looking at a resource officer or someone with ticket writing authority to help with illegal dumps. Burrough said after the meeting that other counties have adopted mandatory garbage pickup, while the county has not done that yet. “They seem to have success at keeping their property more clean,” he said. “It would not only make it mandatory, but it would also put more dumpsters out for public use. If everyone is having to pay their share, we would have more dumpsters out in public places maybe where people could drop their trash off instead of just throwing it off to the sides of the road.”  Currently the county has about 7,000 customers now, while adopting mandatory service “would increase it to about 17,000,” he said. He said a flat fee could be made for everyone, or it could be based on income.