Health department’s request to enforce citations to litterers refused

By Peggy Mackenzie
The Greenbrier County Commission determined at the Tuesday morning meeting that the time is not right to give the county health department the authority to issue citations for improper refuse and garbage disposal. The issue was first brought to the attention of the commissioners at the Aug. 25 meeting. At that time, the commission tabled the issue until they had the county prosecutor’s authorization.
“We are looking for a leg to stand on,” said Sanitarian Will Knowlton, when he presented the request to the county commission on Tuesday morning. Without the power to enforce the citations, he said, “As it is, our hands are tied.”
Many man hours are expended once a nuisance investigation report is received at the health department, Knowlton said, and sometimes calls come in from the state or local police departments to report a garbage dump site. The health department then sends a letter to the property owner, followed by warnings, but usually nothing happens, he said; the complaints are largely ignored. It may take days to get the site cleaned up; meanwhile the dump becomes a public health hazard attracting mosquitoes, rats, and flies. Knowlton said at least half of the complaints the health department handles require repeated visits to the site and draw upon the time of the police departments and the Department of Natural Resources, as well.
Commission member Lowell Rose stated, upon reading a follow up email from county Prosecutor Patrick Via, “It’s not as simple as the commission agreeing” to approve the health department’s request. Certain actions by the commission must be performed.
“The basic question,” Via wrote, “for the commission at this time is whether it wishes to consider ordinances to implement the procedures provided by the new statute. To be fully implemented, the commission must not only establish the enforcement agency, but also be willing to sit as a hearing board to make rulings on petitions brought against citizens.”
Additionally, Via cautioned, as a new, untested ordinance, no magistrate is obliged to undertake the procedures and may refuse the citation filed by a non-law enforcement agency.
Commission President Mike McClung said while the commission is sympathetic to the health department’s need for enforcement, the commission is unwilling at this time to take on the added responsibility.
In other business:
A new employee was approved for the Day Report lab to fill a vacancy. Sue Brooks will fill the part-time position, said director Laura Legg.
Two new employees, Brenda Critchley and Michael McGuire, were also approved for the 9-1-1 Center.
The commission approved the contract and resolution for the JAG grant for the continuance of the multi-jurisdictional drug and violent crime task force for $35,000.

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