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Berkeley County might hire litter cop

April 21, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County might be "open for business," but county leaders want to be sure that the county's not open for dumps and distracting roadside litter.

"You don't have to go very far in this county to find the beauty being spoiled ..." County Commissioner William "Bill" Stubblefield said Thursday at the commission's regular meeting.

In a March 19 budget workshop, Stubblefield received informal backing from fellow commissioners Steven C. Teufel and Ronald K. Collins to hire a litter control officer, but exactly how the new enforcement arm would operate was not decided.

On Thursday, Sheriff W. Randy Smith proposed to the commission that the litter control officer be added to his department, suggesting a uniformed deputy would have more of an impact on residents in trouble with property maintenance code and litter laws than someone dressed in plain clothes.

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"When there is an issue, I'm going to have be called (anyway)," said Smith, who already is burdened with enforcing abandoned vehicle statutes by state law.

Along with hiring an officer who has the power to issue citations, Stubblefield is asking that county officials take advantage of legislation enacted by state lawmakers to create a county Beautification Enhancement Board to support the enforcement efforts.

"The important thing is getting the job done - less important is how we get there," said Stubblefield, who wanted more time to consider Smith's proposal.

Stubblefield earlier had said he was concerned about asking the sheriff to absorb the additional responsibility of the litter control officer, doubting whether it was fair to ask Smith to get involved.

In agreement with hiring a litter control officer, Collins said the county can't depend on volunteers to continually clean up dumps or Division of Natural Resources officers who already are stretched thin.

According to the applicable state code, the Beautification Enhancement Board members could include the county engineer, who now handles property maintenance complaints; the county health officer; a chief from a county fire company, a local Division of Highways representative; two at-large members; and the sheriff as an ex-officio member.

The board would serve as an agency for the county to address demolition of unsafe structures; instigate removal of refuse, debris, overgrown vegetation, toxic spills, roadside litter and open dumps; and draft ordinances.

County Engineer William "Bucky" Teach reiterated his concern Friday for the need to set aside a fund for removing hazardous structures, particularly when liens placed against property could remain for extended periods of time.

So far this year, Teach said his office had received 20 property maintenance complaints as of Friday. Those didn't include a particularly visible site along Interstate 81 near Koonztown Road that has concerned commission legal counsel Norwood Bentley III for some time.

Teach told Bentley that his office was in the process of taking legal action against the property owner to clean it up.

In March, Stubblefield said the county was receiving pressure from the state to implement litter-control measures or risk losing economic development grant opportunities.

In his State of the State address in January, Gov. Joe Manchin said "if a county wants to receive state dollars for its economic development efforts, it must first demonstrate its commitment to keeping the county as clean as possible in order to show respect to their residents and attract and retain businesses and tourists."

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