County discusses trash, illegal dump sites

Trash has been a topic of discussion for some time in Sussex County. Over the years, County Councilman Sam Wilson has voiced his upset with littering, and Councilman Rob Arlett recently focused on illegal dump sites.

At the May 9 council meeting, County Constable Ryan Stuart said one of the main responsibilities of his office is to handle property-maintenance complaints.

He noted that the big three complaints are lot maintenance (grass/weeds), the parking and storing of vehicles, and prohibited accumulations, such as trash. Lot maintenance complaints make up approximately 50 percent of the office’s total complaints per year, equating to three calls per day on average.

Stuart said the definitions of the violations are clear, denoting that property owners are responsible for keeping their grasses and weeds at less than 12 inches in height.

“We do receive a lot of calls about tree limbs and shrubs and things of that nature, which we do not enforce at this time,” he said.

He added that, last year, the office responded to 95 complaints in the county related to junk vehicles.

“We often get feedback that allowing two junk vehicles on a property does contribute to the eyesores in the community. In general, there are allowed to be no more than two unregistered, inoperable or dismantled vehicles.”

The office receives more than 600 complaints a year, and enforcement is complaint-driven, said Stuart.

Once a complaint is received, it is assigned to a staff member for inspection. If a violation is verified, a notice is prepared and delivered — either by hand or certified post. It can be a very time-consuming process, he said, noting that it could take 88 days from the date a complaint is made for it to get to court.

He added that, in 2016, 259 certified notices were mailed and 49 were posted.

“Grass is the most common complaint we get,” Stuart said.

Stuart said the current code allows the County to enforce removal of trash and grass; however, there is no provision to remove vehicles from a property.

“Our chronic violators know the system,” said Mike Costello, government affairs manager for Sussex County. “They know that from Day 1 until the day they go into court for trial that, if they correct it, on the day of trial, we’ll dismiss the charge.”

“Do we need more staff?” asked Councilman George Cole.

“We have enough staff to handle the process in the manner that we have right now,” said Costello. “Should we move to something that’s not complaint-driven, that we’re doing proactively, the current staff would not work.”

Costello went on to discuss roadside littering and dumping, which he said is “highly visible.”

“It impacts everyone in our county. It reflects poorly on who we are and diminishes our reputation in this county.”

Dumping and littering are criminal and traffic offenses, said Costello, adding that the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control maintains a complaint line at 1-800-662-8802.

Arlett asked Costello to find out how many tickets the Delaware State Police have issued in Sussex County related to dumping and littering.

Costello said the fines start at $100 and go up, depending on the approach of the charges.

Cole said he believes the County needs to move from being complaint-driven and be proactive.

“It’s an unfortunate issue,” he said.

Scrap tires were also discussed, as to whether or not they should be added to the list of regulated items within the county.

“I don’t know if I have a solution, but I can tell you, if you adopt the scrap-tire program or incorporate a tire into the regulation as a waste, you then own that,” said Costello. “If you own that, you’ll be responsible for cleaning that up. It’s a major step, for sure.”

In other County news:

• William Pfaff will serve as Sussex County’s next economic development director. Pfaff was chosen from a pool of 20 candidates.

“We’re glad to have you,” said Council President Michael Vincent.

“I’d like to thank the council, the county administrator and the entire selection committee for your support, consideration and my appointment to this position,” Pfaff said. “As I’m sure many of you know, economic development is to a community as fuel is to an engine… I think, as you drive around this county, you will recognize that economic development is alive and working.

“I look forward to working with the council. I look forward to working with the Sussex County government family, supporting and promoting economic development for the citizens of Sussex County.”

• The council proclaimed the month of May as “Community Action Month.”

“Community Action has put a human face on poverty for over 50 years by advocating for limited-income citizens without a voice so that they may enter the middle class and reach for the American dream, replacing their despair with opportunity… therefore, be it resolved, that the Sussex County Council hereby proclaims the month of May 2017 as ‘Community Action Month’ in Sussex County in recognition of the hard work and dedication of all community action agencies, and First State Community Action Agency in the State of Delaware,” said Lawson.

“I’m proud to stand here as a product of community action agencies,” said Kaneisha Trott, communications and public relations specialist for First State Community Action Agency. “The programs they provide to help individuals live without poverty, I can speak on personal experience and testify to the great work they have done and continue to do today.”

• The County will unveil its proposed 2018-fiscal-year budget on Tuesday, May 16, at 10 a.m. in Council Chambers.