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Amherst County proposing penalty increase for littering

Amherst County proposing penalty increase for littering

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Robbie Wright

Robbie Wright picks up metal pieces, such as screws, on the side of U.S. 29 Business in Madison Heights on Dec. 9, 2020.

Littering may soon become a more costly act in Amherst County.

The board of supervisors has authorized a public hearing April 20 to increase the penalty for littering. The Code of Virginia recently was amended to allow the penalty to be increased to a minimum of $500, and up to a maximum of $2,500 or 12 months in jail, or both. Amherst County’s current minimum penalty is $250.

“This is a simple change to the ordinance to bring it in compliance with the Code of Virginia,” County Attorney Mark Popovich said of the measure.

Amherst County officials have complained in the past about trash and litter on the roadways being a problem. The county declared a “war on trash” more than a year ago and a Coalition for a Cleaner County group formed to organize trash pickups along corridors.

County Administrator Dean Rodgers said Virginia Myers, a leader in the coalition, has asked for higher penalties for littering.

The county’s litter and prevention and control ordinance has language on securing and covering loads so all vehicles transporting material along streets, roads or highways to prevent the contents from dropping, sifting, leaking or escaping.

Sheriff E.W. Viar publicly has encouraged residents to secure loads on their vehicles, adding the law says loads must be secured. Rodgers has said the message in the county’s “war on trash” is if people are caught dumping trash they will be prosecuted.

Supervisor Claudia Tucker said she has seen a lot of individuals picking up trash along U.S. 29 and other places in the county. “We certainly do appreciate it,” Tucker said.

Jennifer Moore, the board’s chair, said she wants the county to figure out a way to celebrate those who are picking up the initiative and volunteering their time to help the county look good.

Also during the board’s April 6 meeting, Susan Chapman, of the Lynchburg branch of Brown, Edwards & Company, went over with supervisors a formal review of the audit of the most recently completed fiscal year. The audit was favorable, a few adjustments were made and no material weaknesses were included, according to the report.

A deficiency was identified in segregation of duties that Chapman said would be addressed when the county purchases new financial accounting software that eliminates some of the current steps required to process payroll. The audit report states the county agrees staff duties need to be further segregated and is making efforts to do so within current budget constraints.

The county’s 2021-22 budget proposal, which the board is expected to adopt in upcoming weeks, has funding in the capital improvement plan for a software overhaul. County Administrator Dean Rodgers said a handful of proposals for new software has come in and the county will soon begin a selection process.

The county government’s net position of activities in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2020 was $27.9 million, according to the report. The county’s total revenue in that year was $47.3 million while expenditures were at $48.5 million, according to figures in the audit report.

The 2020 fiscal year was unique with the initial round of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act bringing millions in the county’s coffers, Chapman said.

“In spite of all the uniqueness and challenges of 2020, you still have a clean audit,” Chapman told supervisors, adding: “The [accounting] software the county has is dated and doesn’t have some of the abilities to split things that some of the newer software packages does. Without new staff or different software, some of those things are not resolvable under what [Finance Director Stacey Wilkes] currently has to operate with.

Overall, the county has made a lot of progress, Chapman said.

“You weathered things fairly well, all things considered, which is good,” Chapman told supervisors, referring to the pandemic. “Some areas that are larger that have a lot more meals tax, a lot more lodging, a lot more large tourism dollars, were hit a lot harder...the county did OK.”

She said despite the county’s staffing limitations, many employees working remotely and other challenges, the county managed well through the crisis.

“That’s actually fairly impressive,” Chapman said. “Not all the localities I’ve dealt with in the last year can say that.”

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