While Panola Countians are attacking roadside trash in their communities, county supervisors are mulling over a proposed ordinance that could help curb the problem.
If supervisors implement the ordinance as-is, however, it would affect private property as well, clamping down on junk cars, tires, appliances and other unsightly garbage.
Mississippi’s rural road litter is 30 percent above the national average, according to an anti-litter Web site operated by the state Department of Transportation.
Panola County Sheriff’s Deputy Bobby Walton delivered the eight-page ordinance to a supervisors meeting in March.
Walton is a part-time enforcement officer for the county’s Solid Waste department. He also transports prisoners for the sheriff’s department.
Walton told The Panolian the ordinance is copied from a similar ordinance being used by a peer in Wayne County, Miss. He picked up the copy at a seminar of other Solid Waste enforcement officers.
On April 18, county supervisors resurrected the ordinance when board attorney Bill McKenzie asked about their intentions.
McKenzie and the supervisors flipped through the ordinance for about 10 minutes, agreeing that some wording would need tweaking if the ordinance is voted on and approved.
Reading through the ordinance, Board of Supervisors President Jerry Perkins noted the use of receptacles for depositing trash, a section that would likely be dropped since it would be impractical in the rural county.
Another section of the ordinance would allow Walton to nab illegal dumpers if he finds their names and addresses in the trash they leave behind.
Walton had used that tactic in the past but gave up when the county’s justice court judges refused to convict, citing a lack of the burden of proof.
McKenzie said the language in that section had little "teeth" since the burden of proof is still lacking.
"The wording says, ‘A person caused it to be there,’ and you can’t prove that person put it there," McKenzie told the board.
The ordinance also states, however, that the burden seems to be on the alleged litterer – not Walton – since it’s presumed that "all generators of such items are responsible for such items until such time it has been property disposed of."
Regarding that particular section of the ordinance, Walton said he hopes it will pass muster with the supervisors because it would give him more flexibility in nabbing illegal dumpers.
"Tate County’s already using it, and the state of Arkansas is using it, too," Walton told The Panolian.
Reached at his office last week, McKenzie said he is too busy on the pending sale of Tri-Lakes Medical Center to discuss the litter ordinance.
Another part of the ordinance would allow the county to fine drivers who let trash blow or fall from their vehicles, such as the bed of a truck.
Male drivers behind the wheels of pickups account for two-thirds of items that escape onto roadways, according to the MDOT Web site.
Still another aspect of the proposed ordinance would require the cleanup and upkeep of private property in the county. Fines could be imposed if the property is left trashy and junky.
One section of the ordinance would ban landowners from junking up their own property by declaring such trash an "unauthorized dump."
An "unauthorized dump" is defined by the ordinance as "any collection of solid waste either dumped on a property either public or private, whether or not regularly used."
Automobiles, large appliances and similar large items would constitute an "unauthorized dump," the statute reads, but not the "careless, scattered littering" of smaller items such as tires, bottles and beer cans.
Smaller trash is covered elsewhere in the ordinance, however, and would also be forbidden on private property if the ordinance is passed as-is.
The penalty for violating the ordinance is a $250 to $500 fine that would be paid through the county’s justice court system. Further violations would jump to a $1,000 fine.
If the violator refuses to clean up the mess, the county could impose a fine for cleaning up the property.
The enforcement of the "unauthorized dump" section could affect Panola Countians such as contractor Tim Mayer.
After Mayer and his family built a brick home at 1216 Terza Road, he dumped piles of building materials next to the road on his own land.
The dump sits about 200 yards from Mayer’s home, which is also the only home in the immediate area.
The curvy road helps hide the trash from Mayer’s front porch, but drivers passing by can easily see it.
The trash has been pushed back farther from the road, and some of it has been burned, county road manager Lygunnah Bean told The Panolian Thursday.
Mayer did not respond to a request for an interview by The Panolian.
If the litter ordinance was in place, Mayer would be required to clean up the dump he created, acknowledged Board of Supervisors President Jerry Perkins.
Perkins said Mayer was visited by Walton, Solid Waste manager Dean Joiner and Bean after a neighbor complained about the dump site.
"He’s been asked to clean it up, and he refused, and right now he can do what he wants to," the board president said.
Regarding Mayer’s right – and others’ – to deposit trash on their own property, Perkins said he respects people’s property rights but views such trash as a health hazard.
"The biggest complaints I get are about the unsightly garbage on the roads," Perkins said, "but I do get calls from people whose neighbors have trash and who say that decreases their property value."
Asked about his views on the ordinance, District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant said he would likely support the ordinance but first must voice some concerns. One concern, he said, is the legality of forcing residents to clean up their own property.
"I believe in trying to instill community pride, but do we go in and tell them to clean up the inside of their houses, too?" Avant said. "And I wonder how we enforce it? Do we hire more deputies?"
Asked about any political fallout if the ordinance is passed, Avant said the results wouldn’t be surprising: Panola Countians who are forced to clean up their property would be angry at the supervisors, and people who are not affected would support them.
At the April 18 meeting, McKenzie cautioned supervisors that the ordinance alone would do little to solve the county’s littering and illegal dumping problem.
"Words on paper don’t cure society’s ills," McKenzie said.