Every week, James Bomar fights what appears to be a never-ending battle.
Bomar has headed Morgan County’s roadside clean-up program since October. Every weekday, he starts at 6:30 a.m. with a team of Morgan County Jail trusties and scours county road rights of way for garbage.
Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long said the point of the program is to make the county look appealing and attract new residents and industry.
“The more people we have in the county, the more people are spending money here and the more people are in our schools,” Long said. “We want to build Morgan County.”
Some city of Decatur officials, including Councilman Charles Kirby, also are concerned about litter.
Kirby urged the city to consider making the penalty for littering more severe.
“I’ve gotten tons of phone calls, emails and a minor amount of hate mail,” Kirby said.
He said the city’s Beautification Department picks up some trash, but lacks a program as extensive as the county’s.
“I’m a little scared to suggest starting a program because I know there’s not a lot of leverage in the budget,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process. You can’t flip on a light switch to fix the problem.”
Bomar said he and his crews have found everything from rotting couches and appliances to discarded videos along the roadsides.
“Sometimes we’ll even pick up meth, if it’s been there a while and isn’t active,” Bomar said. “People are always pulling up beside us, smiling and telling us, ‘Thank you.’ ”
The county had jail-run clean-up programs in the past, but they just responded to complaints and never stuck permanently. The initiative is the first time an employee has been hired to tackle the problem full time.
Bomar’s $30,000 annual salary is the program’s only cost, except for fuel and a van that was purchased for $10,000. Other laborers are unpaid trusties, who often go on to other programs such as rehab or work release.
“Most of them are doing short-time stuff like not paying child support,” Bomar said. “I don’t mess with the ones charged with murder or something.”
Long hopes the program will gain enough traction to convince county municipalities to form clean-up programs. Bomar said trash on roadsides is a problem in the entire county, and he often finds himself crisscrossing its breadth in one day. He said there are some litter-conscious citizens and programs such as Adopt-a-Mile that help.
“We know it’s realistic that people will come behind us and throw things out again,” Long said. “We are hoping it will catch on and persuade people to keep the county clean.”
The county recycles tires and aluminum cans picked up by the crew.
Ben Montgomery can be reached at 256-340-2445 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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