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'Clean county' law passes in Berkeley County

August 27, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - An ordinance that strengthens Berkeley County's ability to enforce anti-littering laws and rehabilitation of unsafe and unsightly buildings and land will take effect on Oct. 1.

The "Clean and Safe County" ordinance that was unanimously adopted Thursday by the Berkeley County Commission authorizes the county to seize and then sell property that owners fail to keep safe, sanitary and in compliance with building codes.

It also will give the county's litter control officer the power to issue citations for open dumps and other litter disposal violations.

Enforcement and administration of the ordinance will be supervised by the County Commission, which has reworked job descriptions in the Department of Land Use Planning and Engineering to include a Code Enforcement/Litter Control Officer (LCO).

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Donna Seiler, who was a former county planning technician, became a state-certified litter control officer earlier this year through the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection's Rehabilitation Environmental Action Plan (REAP), which was adopted in 2005.

Lawmakers in 2004 empowered county-employed litter control officers to issue citations, but the Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority has not had enough funding to hire an LCO without compromising the county's growing recycling program, according to Solid Waste Authority chairman Clint Hogbin.

The Solid Waste Authority has "no lack of desire or interest" in hiring an enforcement officer for litter control, Hogbin said in an interview Thursday. But given limited funding, the agency has devoted much of its attention to tackling the issue through recycling programs to reduce illegal dumping of appliances, electronics, etc., Hogbin said.

"If we didn't take (these items), where would they go?" Hogbin said before suggesting they would become part of the litter stream.

The Solid Waste Authority would be in much better position to hire a litter control officer if state lawmakers change how revenue generated from each ton of waste hauled to the landfill is distributed, Hogbin said.

Currently, 25 cents of the $8.75 "tipping fee" charged per ton of garbage disposed is allocated to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources for the agency's conservation officers to specifically enforce the state's littering laws, Hogbin said.

"We felt that the 25 cents per ton should stay in the county," Hogbin said of the Solid Waste Authority board's discussion of the issue. If redirected, Hogbin said the funding would generate about $30,000 for the Solid Waste Authority's litter control budget.

While the Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority stands to receive 50 percent of civil penalties collected for each littering conviction in the county, Hogbin said he is not expecting much revenue to be spurred by the new ordinance.

Even the most aggressive county litter control officer in the state, a retired State Police trooper in Raleigh County, has not been able to generate more than $5,000 in revenue annually, Hogbin said.

The Solid Waste Authority's litter control budget is currently less than $5,000, Hogbin said.

After Thursday's vote, Commissioner Anthony J. "Tony" Petrucci said he planned to push for the county's litter control officer to be supervised by the Solid Waste Authority.

County Commission legal counsel Norwood Bentley III acknowledged that litter control programs in several other counties in West Virginia are managed by their SWAs.

Petrucci said the county also needs to be sensitive to property owners' financial hardships when enforcing the ordinance, particularly issues concerning the seizure of dilapidated property.

"The intent is not to go ... to court and take everybody's land and sell it," Bentley responded. "We don't want to do that, certainly I don't want to go to court and do that often, but if it's necessary we'll have the tool to do it."

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