Trash talk: County Council favors complaining louder, tracking and public incentive

POST TrashStoppers couch along road 3c

Sussex County Council is supporting several options in addressing illegal dumping of trash and debris.

GEORGETOWN – In efforts to address illegal dumping of trash and roadside litter, Sussex County government is seeking to enlist the public’s help – as eyes and ears and possibly clean-up volunteers.

Ongoing trash talk reached the decision stage Tuesday as Sussex County Council unanimously chose a 1-2 punch among four options presented by Chief County Constable Michael Costello.

Under the proposals, approved by a 5-0 Council vote, the County would assume a more accountable role in reporting trash complaints to the agency of jurisdiction – Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

“My recommendation would be to complain,” said Mr. Costello.

post trash costello arlett

At a recent budget workshop, Sussex County Chief Constable Michael Costello, left, shares information on four options he has proposed to address roadside littering and illegal dumping. Seated at right is County Councilman Rob Arlett. (Sussex County Post/Glenn Rolfe).

“Me too,” said County Councilwoman Joan Deaver.

“We could complain and see how those things are going and find out how the outcome … and see if there is any difference if the County is making the complaint versus an anonymous citizen,” Mr. Costello said.

The other option Council supported is to initiate a reward/tip program in reporting violations, supported by $4,500 from the County’s General Fund. If information provided by a witness leads to an arrest and conviction, the witness could get a portion of the fine – possibly half, Mr. Costello suggested.

“Currently there is no mechanism to get the community involved; most of the time when these dumpings occur they are in isolated areas … with very little witness information,” Mr. Costello said. “Sometimes when people do witness it they just don’t want to get involved because they’ve been identified and they are afraid of retributions. Without the witness information it’s almost impossible to make an arrest and an apprehension on this. The key point about this is: let’s get our community involved in this problem.”

Mr. Costello noted the complaint option would cost the County nothing, and the rewards program would be about $4,500 a year, estimated.

Council passed on the two more expensive options.

“We could contract with another agency who is equipped to handle the law enforcement components of those statutory laws or we could commit ownership of this and get something up and running,” said Mr. Costello.

Estimated costs of those options are $32,000 and $414,000, respectively.

County Councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, likes the community unity idea.

“Why could we not have a Sussex County cleanup day? There are lots of people that love to provide time, that are very community involved. They love this community,” Mr. Arlett said. “Just make it a pronounced day where we actually place a focus on our cleanup here in Sussex County to organize all of our children, all of the adults. There are lots of nonprofits that would love to place a focus on cleanup. We could use the fire halls. I have reached out to some of them, as an organizing place. We could even as a County provide some T-shirts in annual cleanup day. I think as a community we could step up and actually do it and start letting it be known that we are serious and people have to take ownership of this themselves.”

“I will be the chairman,” Mr. Arlett added. “Somebody has got to step up and do it.”

Mr. Arlett also suggested the County consider enlisting its nearly 500 employees in a voluntary pro-active effort to help identify and report problem areas.

“So could we institute this as a County, for all of the employees … if they see something to be a part of the process, versus just your (Constables) department,” Mr. Arlett said.

“All of those things are good, what Rob said. It’s good about cleaning up,” said County Councilman Sam Wilson, R-Georgetown. “But until you teach those that are throwing the trash out – I mean by teaching them, put a fine up on them – because just telling them or cleaning up behind them is like going behind a 2-year-old. In their minds some way they think that we owe them; we are supposed to clean up behind them. Until you teach them that, we are not going to get nowhere. So it’s good to say clean up, clean up. I hear more complaints every week … about all of this trash along the highways, especially since we started talking about it. Isn’t this terrible how this county looks? It also reminds me of the Indian – years ago they used to talk about the trash that was thrown on the highway – and he had this tear falling from his eye. It is almost that bad.”

Option 3 presented by Mr. Costello was to approach DNREC with a contractual negotiation pitch to secure concentrated efforts solely in Sussex County. This proposal would entail overtime pay for DNREC personnel. The annual cost of $32,000 could split into two six-month $16,000 segments, with evaluation after six months.

Mr. Wilson challenged the reason for overtime pay.

“They are coming to work for us. So we are we paying them time and half? The way I look at it, it’s a part-time job,” said Mr. Wilson. “I don’t pay somebody that comes to work part-time for me time and half.”

“You do if they work for the State,” said County Councilman George Cole.

The fourth option of total commitment would include ordinance adoption by the County, five staff members, vehicles, tools and equipment. The projected yearly cost of $414,000 does not include gas/fuel, GPS or computers – nor trash clean-up.

“This doesn’t institute any of the trash pickup. This is just a group of individuals to canvass our county to identify the people who are dumping the trash,” said Mr. Costello. “If we develop a mechanism to address this it is now our issue. Until such time that we exceed our ability to meet that need we can’t ask for help from above this level (state). If we develop a program, we own it. It’s ours.”

“We can’t do nothing. We’ve got to do something,” Mr. Wilson said. “Somehow we’ve got to make Natural Resources (DNREC) realize that this is part of their job.”

Council President Michael Vincent, R-Seaford, said he would like to see a change in state law that would require those found guilty of illegal disposal of trash pay more than a fine.

“Versus somebody getting a fine now of say $50 … require them also to spend ‘X’ number of hours picking up roadside trash. It’s just a thought,” said Mr. Vincent.

County Attorney Everett Moore said he believes that may be part of the state law. “I’m not sure if it is first offense or not …,” Mr. Moore said.

Mr. Costello, who worked with DNREC’s Environmental Crimes Unit department prior to his employment with Sussex County nearly a year ago, said there is a provision in which a judge “can make them go clean it up. That is entirely upon the judge. It doesn’t always happen.”

“I would say in that case what they are talking about is cleaning up that particular trash they put out,” said Mr. Vincent.

Mr. Costello will report back to County Council.

Once specifics are known, Mr. Arlett would like to augment the County’s financial support from $4,500 to a maximum $10,000 to cover a possible countywide clean-up effort.

POST TrashStoppers garbage along road 2c

Roadside litter and dumping of trash have drawn the attention of Sussex County Council, which is supporting two options.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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