Marion County, Florida Takes Fight Against Illegal Dumps Seriously
More than 1.4 million pounds of trash were picked up in Marion County in 2021, a number that highlights the persistent trash problem facing the region.
In an effort to combat the problem, area residents may soon see more ‘Marion’ the horse and ‘Rubbish’ the raccoon – two mascots for the ‘No Horsin’ Around with Marion’ campaign offered by the Marion County Litter Task Force.
The growing threat to health and beauty in Marion County prompted county commissioners last year to convene the Litter Task Force. Several months of meetings and research culminated in a final report presented to the commission on Tuesday. The report proposed the campaign, tougher penalties for the spill and increased community engagement.
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“Surveys that have been conducted show that over 90% – probably in the 95th percentile – of respondents believe that (garbage) is a major problem in Marion County, so who better to solve a community problem than the community ?” Commissioner Craig Curry, who liaised with the task force, said.
The task force, which first met last September, was chaired by Beth McCall and included four local residents’ committees focused on community outreach, marketing, enforcement and fiscal responsibilities.
“There’s no one on this task force that doesn’t believe this is really an issue in Marion County that we need to address,” McCall said. “We have a beautiful county, and when you come down and see all the trash and all the spillage that’s going on, it’s really heartbreaking for all of us.”
The working group will target student and community engagement
The task force’s mission is to change the behavior of residents and visitors to Marion County, improve the quality of life, and protect the county’s natural resources by engaging the community in eradicating litter and illegal dumping.
The Community Outreach and Education Committee, chaired by Marion County Public Schools Community Engagement Director Lauren Debick, identified more than 250 venues and 50 presenters – including elected officials, celebrities, students and business owners – who could discuss the impact of waste at community conferences.
“It’s not just about cleaning up trash,” Debick said. “It’s about changing the mindset and behavior of community members and visitors to prevent litter from happening.”
The committee suggested a waste awareness week, a waste hero award, a zero waste pledge, a youth ambassador program, children’s books, decorated bins and a video contest to promote the pledge of community and students in recycling and proper waste disposal.
“I can tell you the interest is there and the desire is there to make Marion County garbage free for everyone,” she said, noting that many students had expressed interest.
Commission could increase fines against illegal dumping
The Ordinances and Enforcement Committee, led by State’s Attorney Bill Gladson, relayed research into current county ordinances and enforcement codes in Marion County and other municipalities.
The committee noted that the most common types of litter are illegal commercial and personal dumps, people throwing litter from vehicles, and litter blown off by vehicles and trucks.
Several entities have the authority to enforce trash laws, including the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Ocala Police Department, Belleview Police Department, Dunnellon Police Department, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Highway Patrol, Marion County Solid Waste, and Marion County Growth Services.
Under Marion County’s litter ordinance, people who litter are subject to civil penalties of $50, $250, and $500 for the first, second, and third offense, respectively. Subsequent violations are considered second-degree misdemeanors, punishable by a $500 fine and up to 10 days in jail or community service.
The committee recommended “significantly” increasing the penalty for the first offense, mandating trash pick-up by offenders, and adopting alternate definitions from Florida statutes.
“I think we’re probably all in agreement that we could do more enforcement,” Gladson said, noting that the enforcement stats were pretty low.
The committee also suggested using surveillance cameras for law enforcement, creating medians on major roads, using more inmates for litter pick-up, increasing the number of items accepted at landfills, create an app to report offenders, increase Adopt-A-Road efforts, and create a shared database of past offenders for law enforcement officials.
County commissioners generally supported additional enforcement action and expressed interest in designating solid waste code enforcement officers with the authority to enforce state waste law, which is more strict than that of the county.
The campaign will cost money initially, but can be amortized later
A tax committee, led by Florida Express Environmental President John Paglia III, also analyzed the projected expenditures and cost of establishing a new depot site, possibly at Marion Oaks.
The committee recommended increasing penalties and encouraging greater participation in the Adopt-A-Road program to supplement litter control costs, as only 4% of the county’s roads are currently adopted.
The baseline waste figures have been taken for 2021 and will be updated for 2022 to serve as a reference for future years. Paglia noted that the county’s annual waste control cost is over $930,000 and the city of Ocala’s is over $1.2 million.
Curry noted that $7,500 has been spent so far on the first phase of the campaign, compared to $5,000 budgeted, mostly for marketing.
The marketing committee, led by US Forest Service natural resources specialist Antoinette Davis, researched other campaigns and pitched ideas for Marion County.
They work with Neptune Advertising to create a comprehensive marketing campaign, which can include social media ads, radio ads, mailings, bus wraps, direct mail, park benches and trash cans.
The agency has already created several logo options for the “No Horsin’ Around with Marion” campaign.
“We’re going to have to spend a little money up front and then hopefully over time, you know, be able to roll back a bit,” Curry said, noting that Solid Waste already has an annual advertising budget. of $50,000 that goes largely unused.
As Tuesday’s meeting was only a workshop, the committee made no decisions but expressed support for many of the working group’s proposals. Any changes to the order could be presented to the commission at a public hearing in the future, and council could approve other items in the coming months.
“I think there was a lot of interesting information that came out of (this workshop) that we’re going to be able to move forward with,” Commissioner Kathy Bryant said in a conference call at the meeting. . “I see that we can really make a measurable difference on this issue in our community.
Contact reporter Danielle Johnson at [email protected]