Trash talk in Sussex may focus on increased promotion, awareness

GEORGETOWN — Trash talk in Sussex County may precipitate discussion during the county’s annual budgetary process in an effort to boost promotion and awareness of partnerships to collect roadside litter.

“It’s good program,” said Sussex County Councilman John Rieley. “It troubles me to see all the litter on the roadside.”

Mr. Rieley asked if the county could do more to promote the partnership program, which is anchored by a memorandum of understanding with the state departments of Correction and Transportation.

According to a six-month activity report presented at the March 17 county council meeting by County Governmental Affairs Manager Michael Costello, participation is down.

Date for July through December 2019 in comparison to January-June 2019, showed the:

•Number of requests dropped from 177 to 160;

•Bags of trash collected dropped from 2,263 to 1,726;

•Road miles increased from 251 to 402; and

•Number of tires collected decreased, from 85 to 37.

What perked Mr. Rieley’s concern is the amount of roadside litter compared to the number of requests.

“It seems there has been an actual uptick in the amount of litter that I see on the roadways, but yet the requests are down,” said Mr. Rieley. “I am wondering, I guess, and I’ll say it out loud, should we be doing a billboard campaign? Should we be doing public service announcements … something more to help promote this program?”

Activity is tracked month by month.

Mr. Rieley also drew attention to the monthly request chart, which showed zero requests for the month of December.

Mr. Costello said he would double-check on December. “That is striking me as not correct,” he said. “We always have something that we send over. December is definitely light for sure, but I don’t think that number is correct.”

Citizens are encouraged to log requests to roadside litter areas via the county’s website www.sussexcountyde.gov.

“We customarily have it on our carousel on the county website. We post it out every chance we get and try to let people know that we have this program,” said Mr. Costello. “Every month we send a report over to DOC with requests we get from the community on roadways that need to be cleaned up. Every month they return a worksheet on areas they have picked up.”

“We do try to promote this in as much as possible,” said Mr. Costello. “I have even met with our partners just to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to make sure that this is an effective program. We also encourage our staff to participate as they are out on the road and they see areas that need to be cleaned up. We take those requests.”

Under the MOU, the county through allocated funds reimburses DOC for its overtime costs related to the supervision of inmate work crews who collect trash.

The county does not pay anything for the disposal. “DelDOT takes care of that as part of the memorandum,” Mr. Costello said.

In June 2018, the county approved the memorandum of understanding with DOC and DelDOT in efforts to address litter and trash issues along the roadways in the county. County council allocated $120,000 for fiscal year 2019.

In the six month period for the last half of 2019, total cost to Sussex County was $19,495. October was the highest monthly cost at $5,272. December was the lowest, at $1,184.

“We placed $120,000 in the FY19 budget the first year not knowing how much we would need because we were still working through the details when the budget was being prepared,” said Sussex County Finance Director Gina Jennings. “Knowing that we were not needing the full $120,000, the FY20 budget was lowered to $91,500.”

“It is a good program, Mike, and thank you for coordinating this, and what you’re doing,” said county council president Michael Vincent. “Maybe John’s questions, that is something we could talk about in the budget process, if that is something that council wanted to do; spend a little more to advertise somehow or whatever.”

“Overall, this is still a great program. Our partners really like this. The majority of the community members like this,” said Mr. Costello. “We also encourage our staff to participate as they are out on the road and they see areas that need to be cleaned up. We take those requests.”

“Again, going back to the nexus of this program, it is because we don’t have any jurisdiction over this,” said Mr. Costello. “We have no control over solid waste. We have no control over transportation. This was a way for us to at least get involved and do something.”

Mr. Costello added that due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, the county may call off its scheduled roadside cleanup spurred by staff through the Employee Benefit Committee.

Last September, more than 40 county employees took to designated roadsides in the county for a day of trash/litter cleanup. Mr. Rieley, fellow councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton III and Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson were among the participants in the cleanup effort, which collected 169 bags of trash as well as larger items, including televisions, furniture and coolers.

“We would have liked to do that again this coming spring, but in light of the current circumstances we may have to postpone that,” Mr. Costello said.