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New litter program reaps benefits

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Jonathan Sullivan, left, and James Mills, of the Men's Christian Fellowship Home, help collect litter on June 30 along Tanner Road.

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By AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The city of Rocky Mount has found a new way to beautify the community and help disadvantaged residents at the same time. 

Since March, the city has been hiring workers who ordinarily would have few job prospects and paying them to help pick up litter that finds itself strewn on the city’s roadways. Rocky Mount Councilwoman Chris Miller said the strategy benefits everyone involved.

“Employing indigent persons to pick up litter is a more cost-effective way to clean up Rocky Mount. At the same time, such programs give participants a way to feel useful by contributing to their community while earning some money,” Miller said.

For years, residents of Fountain Women’s Correctional Institute were paid with state money to keep the streets of Rocky Mount clean. But when the prison closed, that benefit to the city ended, said Jonathan Boone, director of the city’s Public Works Department.

Since then, the Community Anti-Litter Coalition has formed in Rocky Mount to to seek new solutions to the trash problem.

Miller, who chairs the Community Anti-Litter Coalition and works closely on litter issues with Keep America Beautiful of Nash & Edgecombe Counties, said that litter eradication is important to the overall health of a community.

“Studies have shown that attractive surroundings promote positive citizen behavior. Clean, litter-free areas are less likely to attract litter. Whereas, litter seems to draw more litter,” Miller said.

While litter acts as a magnet to community ills, Millers said the lack of litter attracts economic growth.

“Attractive communities draw tourists to visit and spend. Companies are more likely to invest and create jobs in attractive communities. Local taxpayers enjoy the benefits,” Miller said.

The new litter program was initiated by the city in the spring with $25,000 initially set aside for the effort. The city employs residents of the Christian Fellowship Home on Grace Street to help with some of the labor. The home is a nonprofit halfway-house set up to help men who are are recovering from substance abuse. The city hires other people through Tri-County Industries, a Rocky Mount-based organization dedicated to “enhancing the lives of people who are disabled or disadvantaged through work assessment, job training and placement.”

Boone said the city pays these organizations $13 per man-hour for the services. These organizations, in turn pay wages to the workers after adjusting for overhead costs and taxes. The city also employs one worker to help oversee the collection efforts. 

So far, the program has cost more than $30,000 in four months. However, Boone said the program still saves the city money in the long run.

“Before we set up the litter crew, we were constantly having to pull higher-paid city employees off their jobs to deal with litter. This was not an effective use of manpower or money,” Boone said.

As they were getting the program off the ground, Boone said the city hired some temporary workers for a while to fill in numbers. But during the new fiscal year, Boone said the city is committed to working with these organizations to help employ up to eight people on a part-time basis. Boone said the city also is looking for other funding sources to expand the program and is hoping to work with other organizations in the future.

However, the goal of the program will remain two-pronged: to offer a hand out to those who need it while cleaning up Rocky Mount and the surrounding area.

Sheila Martin, manager of the Dunn Center and a member of the Community Anti-Litter Coalition, said the new program is already bearing fruit. 

“This program is in its infancy, but it has tremendous potential. It is already making a big difference,” Martin said. “The city looks so much cleaner now.”

The proof is in the numbers. Boone said the new litter crew has put in more than 2,300 hours collecting more than 1,040 bags of trash since March. In addition, they have collected 12 tires and 103 signs illegally placed in right of ways.

However, Boone said he does not want the work of the new litter crew to lull residents into a sense of complacency about litter.

“In a sense, the Fountain Correctional Center lulled us into apathy about the litter issue” Boone said. “We all have to pitch in to make sure we are not adding to the litter issue, even inadvertently. We also need to become more involved in keeping our city and community clean. Churches and civic groups can also help by adopting a site or adopting a street. The litter crew cannot do this alone.”

For more information about ways to help, call Keep America Beautiful of Nash & Edgecombe Counties at 252-467-4960.

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