Flaggs to city: Bear down on litter in town

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 22, 2014

Better communication between city departments, better enforcement of stricter garbage ordinances and more accountability from city code enforcers are the first steps in eliminating the city’s litter problems, Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said Thursday.
“Fifty percent of the problem is Vicksburg,” he said, “our own in-house services. The problem is the (lack of) communication and a tracking system (to monitor how trash problems are handled). We don’t have a tracking system.”
Flaggs’ comments came after a meeting of city officials, Waste Management representatives and garden club members to discuss the city’s trash and litter problems. A second meeting is set for April 1, when Flaggs hopes to develop a plan to address the problem.
“What we need to do is come up with a plan of action that may lead to changing enforcement,” he said. “Fine-tune it.”
“Everything starts with identifying the problem and taking action on it,” South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson said. “If they (city workers) see a pile of debris, somebody’s got to make the initial contact and then follow up from there.”
Thompson would like to see city officials and employees be more proactive when it comes to dealing with litter, trash and illegal dumping.
Currently, residents complaining about trash and litter call the city’s action line, which forwards the complaint to the proper department.
Thompson said city officials shouldn’t wait until a complaint is filed.
“Everything is complaint-driven, when people call then we act,” he said. “But if we’re driving somewhere and we see a problem, somebody needs to tag something. Even if somebody’s already taken care of it.”
He said the city needs a central point of contact to deal with cleanup orders.
Vicksburg has ordinances prohibiting illegal dumping, littering and trash piles. Penalties for violations range from fines ranging from $50 to $1,000 and/or a jail sentence of up to 90 days.
The ordinances also allow city employees, or a contractor hired by the city, to go on private property considered a health and safety hazard and clean it if the property owner fails to clean it within a specified time. The property owner is charged for the cleanup cost if the city handles it.
Residential and small business garbage and trash are collected twice weekly by Waste Management, which has a solid waste contract with the city. James Funderburg, Waste Management senior district manager, said the company also uses a boom truck to collect large items its employees can’t handle by themselves.
The city’s litter is collected by workers with the city’s community services department. Vicksburg’s street and right of way departments clean overgrown limbs and brush that employees clear on city rights of way, although street department director Skipper Whittington said crews also collect trash and debris dumped on the rights of way.
Funderburg said the city’s problem is not with Waste Management’s residential customers.
“Your residents self-police themselves,” he said. “If we miss something, we hear about it from them.”
The problem, he said, is people who put out piles of trash and debris that are not covered under Waste Management’s contract with the city. At one time, he said, the company was able to collect the debris under an agreement where the city paid Waste Management for collecting trash and debris and for disposing it.
Under the current contract, he said, Waste Management pays for the disposal, resulting in tighter restrictions on what it can pick up. The pact includes typical household refuse, but excludes heavy construction debris, such as roofing shingles, drywall and lumber.
“What’s happened is we’ve spoiled your residents,” Funderburg said. “They put the stuff out and we picked it up. Now we can’t pick it up, and they’re still putting it out.”
Besides stricter enforcement, Flaggs and Thompson said the city needs to educate the public more about its trash and litter ordinances.
Community Development Director Victor Gray-Lewis said when city inspectors respond to complaint about debris, they hand out a brochure outlining the city’s ordinances, and contractors are advised of the ordinances when they get permits.
“We’ve had 10,000 brochures printed,” he said.
“Get ready to print 10,000 more,” Flaggs told him.
“We’re spending enough money and we have enough employees to keep this city clean,” he said. “I want to keep Vicksburg clean 365 days a year.”

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About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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