The Walker County Commission will vote later on Aug. 19 on a new system that would allow the sheriff to hire correctional officers to oversee county inmates daily picking up litter in all four districts.
"Each district would have their crew to pick up litter," Chairman Jerry Bishop said at the commission's Monday meeting, where the commission essentially talked in the end of expanding Sheriff's Nick Smith's litter program by three officers so all four districts would be covered.
Last month, the Walker County Community Corrections Board voted to end the county's work release program as it was losing money. However, that also gutted the daily litter cleanup District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis was conducting.
At Monday's meeting, Bishop convinced the commission to postpone any final decisions for two weeks until details could be worked out for a new litter program that apparently would involve trustee-type county prisoners at the Walker County Jail. No cost estimates have been obtained, Bishop said.
Davis said later Monday that the commission is looking at the possibility of using funding from the Solid Waste Department. Earlier in the meeting, he said the commission was looking at ways to fund the program, including revenue from the increases in the business license fees and the county lodging tax last October for Fiscal 2019 in order to make sure the budget was balanced.
"In my district, we ran a litter crew six days a week, utilizing work release workers," Davis said, noting the work release inmates were overseen by a full-time person. "Now that program has been shut down," leaving the district program in limbo. He said going two weeks without picking up litter will result in litter to mount on roadsides.
"Just in my district alone, two to three work release guys were picking 40 to 50 bags a day of litter, every day, six days a week. Right now, we've been without litter pick up for two weeks, so you can do the math," Davis said.
"The Sheriff's Department already has one litter crew running," Davis said, adding that Sheriff Nick Smith is already behind whatever the commission comes up with "of having the same program, where we just have a part-time corrections officer or maybe a full-time corrections officer for each district that goes and picks up the inmates from the jail and uses that labor to continue to pick up paper."
Davis told commissioners during the meeting the sheriff's crew runs over the whole county, noting Fall City Road was picked up last week.
"I know if I go down to Fall City Road now, it probably needs picking up again," Davis said. "The only way I have found in six years to try to keep a handle on this epidemic is to have a systematic program in place every day."
Davis recommended a part-time corrections officer to oversee inmates on a daily basis in each district. District 2 Commissioner Jeff Burroughs asked would one be needed for the county or if one would be needed per district. Davis said one full-time corrections officer is in place due to a program started by Smith, overseeing two or three inmates a day.
After talking with Smith, Davis said at least two inmates per district could be available each day, amounting to eight each day across four districts. "Four (per district) would be ideal," he added.
Answering a question from Burrough, Davis recommended two inmates a day, six days a week, in each district rather than eight in one district weekly.
"Due to liability issues, I think having a licensed corrections officer overseeing that is a better way of going. That's my opinion," he said.
Davis also suggested judges could assigns those going through the courts to pick up litter.
Burrough said with his limited work force, his crews concentrates litter pickup in the spring. District 3 Commissioner Ralph Williams said with community corrections shutting down will free up some inmates to help out.
Aderholt questioned who would be hiring the officers, as he said getting licensed correctional officers would require being hired by the sheriff.
He said his crews work four days a week, 10 hours a day to be more productive. "We wouldn't have to run six days a week," adding the district has an "OK handle on litter. I think you could pick up litter seven days a week."
He emphasized the county needs to be proactive in combating litter and adding as many workers back now to help with the situation.
Davis said he uses a 4/10 schedule, calling it more beneficial, but when he could get six work release inmates, the district made progress on the litter.
Commissioners said the process has not been systematic as it could have been in the past because one would not know from day-to-day how many inmates they could get.
Bishop said until the Aug. 19 meeting, he, County Administrator Robbie Dickerson and Smith, as well as some individual commissioners (without creating a meeting quorum), can put together details of a proposed plan. "Your manpower is never going to be the same," he said, but he noted that Smith can hire outside contract people to help out as officers.
"In fact, Marion County does that," he said. "They contract out everything, even the correction systems."
Bishop said Smith should be allowed to hire the officers through his department for liability issues. Hiring through the district liability would then involve the Walker County Civil Service Board, he said.
Commissioners also talked about the need to have more education to school children and citizens to prevent littering. Bishop also said the sheriff officers will need to write tickets for littering as they patrol.
Davis asked for his constituents to be patient as it could take several weeks before a new program is started. He said his crews will help with problem spots that arise in the meantime.