Town Council briefed on littering penalties, deer culling, and refuse collection

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Vinton Town Council mainly focused on briefings at its meeting on June 6. Police Chief Tom Foster briefed council on a proposed ordinance amending the section of the Vinton Town Code which deals with “dumping unsightly matter on public property, highway, right-of-way, park, or private property.” Currently, violating this ordinance results in a Class 1 Misdemeanor penalty punishable by confinement in jail for up to 12 months and/or a fine of at least $250 but not more than $2,500. This is a criminal conviction that goes on the offender’s criminal record.

Foster said that the proposed ordinance amendment would allow officers to instead charge violators with a lesser offense, punishable by a civil penalty of $50, payable to the town treasurer, with no criminal conviction— much like receiving a parking ticket under town code.

Foster said the requested change in ordinance has been considered for over a year, since Town Council and town staff held their first Clean-up Day in 2016.

The proposed ordinance would state that it is “unlawful for any person to drop, dump, discard, or otherwise dispose of trash, garbage, refuse, litter, cigarette butts, fliers, food containers, or other unsightly matter on public property, including a public highway, right-of-way, property adjacent to such highway, park, or on private property without written consent of the owner.”

Council will take action on the proposal at its next meeting on June 20. Officers will then begin issuing citations for litter discarded from motor vehicles in the town. Council members indicated during the discussion that followed the briefing that they are especially concerned about cigarette butts, which are not only unsightly, but a fire hazard. Councilwoman Janet Scheid also noted that cigarette butts are toxic to wildlife.

Chief Foster then briefed council on the issue of “Urban Archery and Deer Culling” within the town. A citizen recently addressed council on the deer invading his property and destroying his garden and vegetation.

The department examined potential methods for controlling the deer population and came up with three options. Option 1 is adopting an “Urban Archery” program which would allow licensed hunters to hunt deer in the town annually from October through December. This option was determined to be complicated to implement given that deer run some distance after being shot and the limited number of large tracts in a town where most residential lots are about one-quarter acre. State law requires hunters to obtain landowner permission before retrieving game that had been killed.

Option 2 is hiring a licensed contractor to cull the deer population. This was determined to be too costly with estimates from two local companies that the cost to the town would range from $100 to $190 per deer killed.

Option 3 involves hiring law enforcement officers to kill deer within town limits as permitted by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. This option is also deemed too costly, as it would require purchase of special rifles with sound suppression, overtime pay for officers, and a $60 processing fee once the deer are killed.

The recommendation was that the issue be tabled as citizen complaints have been minimal and deer/car collisions are uncommon in the town.

The third briefing was presented by Public Works Director Joey Hiner— a continuation from an earlier council meeting on the methodology of refuse collection in Vinton.

Public Works requested the purchase of a primary refuse truck in this year’s budget to replace a 2007 manual load-packer, which is used daily for residential/light commercial trash collection and transporting refuse to the Roanoke Valley Resource Authority. The cost of the new vehicle would be $230,000.

This budget request led to a review of the town’s curbside refuse collection. The Public Works committee has since extensively researched and considered the town’s options for trash collection. Hiner’s briefing focused on two options: semi-automated and manual.

Choosing the semi-automated option would involve purchase of a truck with a lifting cradle ($240,000), the purchase of 3,300 trash containers ($198,000 total at $60 per container), and retrofitting cradles for a reserve truck ($16,000) for a total of $414,000. Savings would be found by reducing the refuse collection crew from four to three ($40,000). The annual debt payment would amount to $47,365 for a total of an additional $224,000 over five years.

This semi-automated option would necessitate use of 96-gallon cans with attached lids. It would reduce lifting by Public Works personnel, require items to be placed in the containers to be collected, and provide for less oversight of prohibited items/materials being discarded. The semi-automated system does provide a more uniform appearance in neighborhoods, but requires more space and clearance for the refuse trucks. Scheid and Councilman Keith Liles spoke in favor of the automated system, which Liles said would be “easier on employees.”

Option 2, continuing the manual system currently in use, would cost $230,000 for purchase of the new truck— with the option of retrofitting with cradles in the future. This system allows residents to choose their own containers sized “just enough” for their own needs. It also allows for items not in a can to be picked up and provides more oversight of what citizens are discarding.

The Public Works committee concluded that due to budget constraints ($414,000 for semi-automated versus $230,000 for the manual system), continuing the current manual collection system is the best option for now. In addition, the committee concluded that the current refuse collection system is “highly regarded by customers,” and that “crew members are the town’s most visible ambassadors to the public.”

Councilwoman Sabrina McCarty, who serves on the Public Works committee, stated that the committee believes that the best approach at this time, with limited funding, is to “start at the level of education” to inform the public on existing ordinances relating to trash collection in the town and to enforce those policies.

In other reports, Town Manager Barry Thompson informed council that Roanoke County has conveyed the former William Byrd High School property to Waukeshaw Development, with renovations that will transform the facility into upscale apartments to begin in August.

He also announced that the Macado’s Restaurant to be located in the old Vinton Library building on Washington Avenue now has a site and building plan approved by Roanoke County and a building permit, so activity should be noticeable on the project soon. He also noted that skate park plans have been submitted to Virginia Department of Emergency Management as requested.

In his remarks, Mayor Brad Grose shared comments from a grateful resident praising the Vinton Police for coming to the aid of a kindergarten child who decided to get off at the wrong bus stop. Deputy Chief Fabricio Drummond credited Lt. Glenn Austin for his actions in this matter. Chief Foster commended his entire department for “being willing to go the extra mile on everything.”

Councilwoman Scheid stated her interest in adopting an ordinance on excessive tethering of dogs, limiting that tethering to about three hours each day.

Council will next meet on June 20.