Bibb using inmates for beautification

A new crew of county inmates is making Bibb County look better, but they’ve been hampered by people dumping litter as soon as the first round of trash is bagged.

When the crew started working two weeks ago, deputies thought one pickup truck could haul away one day’s take of the trash from U.S. 80. Instead, the county’s Public Works Department had to send two big trucks. That kind of success doesn’t always last.

“I rode through some of the areas they’d already done on U.S. 80, and people were already throwing out trash in those areas,” said sheriff’s Capt. Aubrey Evins, who helps manage the inmate crews.

Bibb County authorized the work, which matches five inmates and one deputy to the county’s roadside trash.

County commissioners want to do more. They want inmates to start cutting grass and are seeking grants and partners to clean up ugly stretches of roads or major intersections, such as the interchange of Interstate 75 and Interstate 16.

Commissioner Joe Allen said the county’s work can only go so far.

“I think it’s our responsibility to keep our community clean,” said Allen, who wants residents to call police with the tag numbers of people who toss out litter.

Deputy Sean DeFoe, the sheriff’s office spokesman, said the crew picking up litter has been so busy — 75 big bags so far — it hasn’t been able to start cutting grass.

Allen spoke this week by cell phone as he was driving along I-75 near Hardeman Avenue. “It’s about the ugliest site you ever did see,” he said. “People coming through Macon, Georgia, can think it’s a third-rate country. But this is not something we’re used to. This is known for being a clean city.”

Allen said he will push for an increase in the fine for littering to at least $1,000, from what he thinks is $300 now. The state’s litter law calls for fines up to $300. Bibb County’s code, last revised in 1974, doesn’t specify a fine. Allen said a heftier fine would make people think twice before they toss a cigarette butt or other debris from a car window.

Evins said the inmate crews work about six hours each day. At minimum wage, their work is worth about $217 per day.

They have to be supervised by deputies who average $22.50 an hour in overtime — $135 for six hours — as they’re called in on their days off to work with the crew.

Workers started off by cleaning most of U.S. 80 near the western county line through Lizella and Macon to Broadway. They moved on to parts of Ocmulgee East Boulevard near Geico and Emery Highway near Fort Hawkins.

“And we did a little bit on Riverside Drive. We also did Mercer University (Drive) from the Columbus Road split up to 475,” he said. “They’ve been working.”

While the county hopes to get more partnerships, grants and inmates to clean up Bibb County, it’s been using labor from the jail for years. Evins said the county typically has 20 to 25 work details each day, working in parks, a landfill and other publicly owned properties. The county hasn’t typically used inmates for roadside cleanup.

“We saved over $1 million for the county last year, and I think it’s close to $300,000 for the city,” he said.

“Last month was about $95,000 for the county and about $40,000-something for the city.”

Money may be at the core of the problem. Bibb County Chief Administrative Officer Steve Layson said many of the problems are along state highways, which the state had been maintaining before budget cutbacks.

Chief Deputy Russell Nelson said many inmates are sentenced to 120 or 240 community service hours.