Macon yard waste law gets nod, fines may increase

Back for a second try after nearly seven months, Macon Councilwoman Nancy White’s ordinance specifically forbidding people from putting grass clippings or other yard debris on city streets or in storm drains passed a City Council committee Tuesday -- and committee members want to make penalties even stiffer.

The council’s Public Works & Engineering Committee approved White’s revised proposal 4-0, with Councilman Ed DeFore absent.

A first version of White’s ordinance made it before council early this year but was sent back to committee for clearer definitions and enforcement provisions. Committee Chairman Lonnie Miley said White couldn’t be at Tuesday’s meeting, but he said she approved of the new version. It would ban putting yard debris on streets or in storm drains, unless it’s piled in the right-of-way as prescribed for Public Works pickup. It also forbids blowing clippings or leaves into drains with a leaf-blower. The ordinance as submitted would set a fine of not less than $25.

But the committee agreed with Rob Danner, who arrived at City Hall to argue the proposed fine would be too low for the trouble involved.

“It doesn’t seem to be an efficient use of your policemen’s time to go out and fine them ($25) or something like that,” he said.

Danner, who lives in Bibb County but owns several properties in the city, said he has often seen yard waste dumped in streets or drains in the last few years -- usually not by homeowners themselves.

“Professional lawn services are generally doing this,” he said. “It goes into the sewers. And you know we’ve had some sewer problems.”

For the trouble that causes and the enforcement time a citation would require, Danner suggested making the initial fine $100 and increasing it sharply from there, up to $1,000 and business license suspension.

Miley and Councilman Henry Ficklin didn’t go that far, but they agreed that $25 wouldn’t be enough to deter yard service workers.

Councilman Rick Hutto said police enforcement might be onerous at first, but he likened it to the city’s anti-panhandling ordinance. Police often disliked chasing panhandlers and often took a while to arrive, he said.

“But they came, and after a while it got to be much, much less,” Hutto said.

Likewise, Councilman Tom Ellington said he’s sure not every offender will get caught, but substantial punishment for a few should send a message to the rest.

“I don’t think we have to catch them every time to make a difference here,” he said.

Ficklin moved to make the minimum fine $100, which was adopted 4-0.

The ordinance likely will come before the full council for a final vote Sept. 4. If it passes, interim Chief Administrative Officer Dale Walker said, lawn care companies can be identified through business license records and notified by letter.

Stormwater bidding

A resolution from Mayor Robert Reichert, asking to contract with the Macon Water Authority for stormwater projects, went down the drain when committee members said the work should be thrown open for bids from private firms. The committee agreed 4-0 to table the item.

The water authority managed stormwater projects, which the last special purpose local option sales tax paid for. The SPLOST voters approved in November 2011 includes another $14 million for such work, to be split between city and county.

Reichert’s proposal was to again have the water authority design and build, or subcontract, work to be performed with that money. Accompanying the resolution is a list of hourly pay for seven water authority employees, ranging from $25.12 to $83.16; and cost estimates for half a dozen projects to do in the coming year, $800,000, mostly for repairing crumbling storm drains beneath downtown streets.

Ficklin said he thinks one reason voters strongly supported the current SPLOST was to provide work for local and minority-owned businesses.

The council recently passed legislation encouraging their use in city work.

Ellington agreed that such large-scale work should be put out for bids, but he said some of the needs are urgent.

“I would hate to slow that process down or bring it to a halt,” he said. Ellington said the water authority could get to work on pressing projects, and the rest could be opened to private bidders. But Ficklin said that would give the water authority a leg up on other bidders from the start.

Answering Hutto, City Attorney Martha Welsh said ordinarily such a large amount would have to be put out for bids, but that’s not required because contracts can be made directly with other government agencies, such as the water authority.

“That’s not to say that you must do it that way,” she said.

Miley said it should be bid out, and Ficklin said to do otherwise would guarantee the work goes to the same few vendors the water authority has used before.

“I don’t think we should be taking an easy way out,” Ficklin said. “To do that really violates the spirit of the SPLOST that people voted on.”

To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.