Board of Commissioners members became passionate when the topic of trash along county roads came up in their meeting last week. As the board approved its new mowing contract some expressed concerns about a trash problem made worse if run over by a mower.
Commission Chairman David Austin said he wants Paulding to have the toughest penalties in the state for littering.
State law says the maximum punishment for littering is a $1,000 fine, a possibility of 60 days in jail and up to six months of probation.
Chief Magistrate Judge Martin Valbuena, who has been a judge for 12 years, said, “I don’t recall sentencing or any other judges sentencing any one to jail [for littering].”
In Paulding first-time offenders receive a $300 fine and second time offenders get a $500 fine for allowing trash to pile up on private property.
However, illegal dumping — from a few pieces of paper to large loads — can bring the $1,000 maximum fine for first-time offenders.
Post 1 Commissioner Dave Carmichael said there is a need for education and fines to help cut down on the problem.
The famous phrase, “Don’t mess with Texas,” was created by the Texas Highway Commission to combat the littering problem the state was facing, according to dontmesswithtexas.org. This effort included the slogan and public education campaign.
“I would prefer they [offenders] get community service to pick up trash,” Carmichael said.
Post 2 Commissioner Todd Pownall said, “Our citizens are going to have to take control.”
Without residents’ help with picking up the trash and urging others not to litter, higher fines will only deter some litterers, he said.
Pownall and his family pick up trash on their road about twice a month. Through this work his children have learned a lesson on why not to litter, and the community can learn it as well if residents get involved with picking up trash, he said.
Both Carmichael and Pownall agree the challenge is catching offenders in the act. Both the county’s marshals and sheriff’s department have the authority to fine for littering, but the marshals do the majority of the enforcement.
Carmichael said technology can catch the offenders. Cameras are used to catch residents running traffic lights, and could be strategically placed to fine those who litter, he said.
Nothing has been voted on to change the county’s litter ordinance as it stands, but it could be something on which action will be taken in the future.