Florida fines litterers $150. For many, it seems to not be much of a deterrent.
"If they have to reach in their pocket and cough up $1,000 bucks, they’re going to think next time."
— ED DANKO, city councilman
Palm Coast is looking into whether it could raise the fine, locally, to $1,000.
City Councilman Ed Danko proposed the increase during a staff presentation on littering during an Oct. 12 council meeting.
“I think we’ve all noticed litter: On the side of the road, driving on Belle Terre, you can’t miss it,” he said. “I think the way to really prevent this problem is strict enforcement.”
He recalled the “Don’t mess with Texas” anti-litter campaign, with its $1,000 littering fines, and said that if Palm Coast could have signs warning that the fine for littering here is $1,000, that might be enough to get would-be-litterers’ attention.
People who toss their fast food bags out a car window, he said, don’t do it just once, and aren’t likely to be swayed by being asked nicely.
“Us saying ‘Please don’t litter’ isn’t going to stop that person, but if they have to reach in their pocket and cough up $1,000 bucks, they’re going to think next time,” he said.
Fighting littering often starts with clearly defining the problem, since “littering” encompasses everything from the fast-food-bag-tosser described by Danko to people who dump hundreds of pounds worth of commercial waste in the forest, or construction contractors who toss their debris on a neighboring lot
Then there’s unintentional litter — the stuff that blows out of a pickup truck bed or the rear of a commercial truck.
For all forms, Palm Coast has known problem areas, city Chief Development Officer Jason DeLorenzo and Public Works Directo Matt Mancill told City Council members.
“Intersections are of course one: When people stop, they tend to let things out of the window, for some unknown reason,” DeLorenzo said. “We do have some concerns with illegal dumping in the neighborhoods, as well.”
The Sheriff’s Office is aware of illegal dumping areas, and monitors them, he said.
Palm Coast also has one employee whose primary duty is picking up litter. And when city mowing crews mow another known littering hotspot — U.S. 1 — city staff members go ahead of the mowing crew to collect litter so that it doesn’t get pulverized by the lawnmowers.
Workers notice clusters of litter near construction sites, Mancill said; there’s also a problem with old couches randomly appearing on right-of-ways.
Florida’s civil penalty for smaller amounts of litter — under 15 pounds’ worth — rose from $100 to $150 last year, while larger amounts are prosecuted as crimes: a misdemeanor if the amount dumped is between 15 and 500 pounds, or a felony for illegal dumping of 500 pounds or more.
It’s not clear if Palm Coast actually can raise the fine — at least, in any way that would make it collectable.
Fines specified in city ordinances tend to be collected by code enforcement officers. But because littering is a state crime, tickets must be issued by sworn law enforcement officers, and council members weren’t sure if the city would be able to direct Flagler County Sheriff’s Office deputies to write tickets for the proposed enhanced fine instead of the state’s $150 one.
City Attorney Bill Reischmann said he would look into it, adding that if deputies can’t enforce an increased fine, the city would be unwise to pass an unenforceable fine increase.
Mayor David Alfin also noted another potential wrinkle with the idea of having FCSO deputies handle a beefed-up littering enfoprcement program.
“I’m not clear on the metrics we would use to determine that we have made progress,” Alfin said. “If we are going to task the Sheriff’s Department ... how do we determine the level of service?”
He suggested that the City Council hold a workshop with Sheriff Rick Staly to see how the FCSO could potentially help.
But aside from — or in addition to — raising the fine, the city can take other steps to curb littering, DeLorenzo and Mancill said.
Those include an awareness campaign, the creation of a catchy anti-littering slogan (perhaps “Keep Palm Coast beautiful,” several council members suggested), new anti-littering signs, and a new litter cleanup event.
City staff, DeLorenzo said, have been envisioning an event that would be similar to the city’s popular Intracoastal Waterway Cleanup and could be held on or near Earth Day, which falls on April 22.
Mayor David Alfin suggested another possibility: Working with the school district to allow local high school students, who must complete community service hours to graduate, to get some of those hours by cleaning up litter.
“In terms of creating awareness … if you get the kids involved, their parents will probably get involved as well,” Alfin said. “And I think that’s a no-brainer way for kids to get community hours of service.”