City crews cleaned up litter from this Metro bus stop in Kent as shown in before and after photos. Courtesy Photo, City of Kent

Kent considers steep fine increase to curtail litter problem

City leaders are considering fines of $1,500 for littering as well as cash rewards for people who help catch litterers in an effort to clean up the streets of Kent.

A three-man city Public Works maintenance crew has picked up 37 tons of garbage so far this year from Kent right-of-way properties. They have found furniture, televisions, appliances, construction debris and even boats.

“I was quite surprised some of the things people dump in the middle of nowhere,” said City Council President Bill Boyce after a workshop presentation on July 18. “People drop boats off, cars, tires … throughout our city. We need to take more pride to take care of our city and keeping it clean.”

Gina Hungerford, city conservation coordinator, gave the council a few ideas at the workshop. She said the current litter fine is $100. Administrative fees boost the bill to about $250.

“I would like to see an increase in that litter fine to something like $1,500, if only for the shock value,” she said. “I’m not sure we would get that from anyone. Fines in the past have been cut in half by the (city) hearing examiner or never collected.”

Kent Police gave out only four litter fines in 2015, Hungerford said, so enforcement could be a challenge.

“Let’s face it, the police department has far worse problems to deal with, violence, shootings, drug problems and robberies. The litter fine is very low on their totem pole,” Hungerford said.

But the threat of a stiff fine might help stop a few people from dumping or dropping trash.

Council members Jim Berrios and Les Thomas like the idea of a reward for people who catch others littering.

“If we have a fine of $1,000 and the reward is $500, in the age of people with video cameras in their phone, maybe they can capture it,” Berrios said. “If we market that and let people know if we catch and prosecute, they will get a $500 reward.”

Thomas said in his East Hill neighborhood he sees small liquor bottles, beer cans, containers from fast food restaurants and diapers along the streets.

“Singapore has a $1,000 fine for throwing anything, and it’s one of cleanest cities in the world,” Thomas said. “And I like the reward idea. Maybe the person who turns it in gets half of the amount of the fine.”

City Public Works Director Tim LaPorte said his staff will research increasing the fines as well as potential rewards for people who catch litterers. That staff report is expected to be presented at the council’s Public Works Committee meeting at 4 p.m. Monday, Aug. 21, at City Hall.

City crews report that trash at Metro bus shelters and stops looms as a major problem. Metro’s policy is to provide garbage cans only at sheltered stops and not where there is just a bus stop sign, Hungerford said. City staff would like to see Metro add more trash cans, but realize the agency might not want to do that with cans costing as much as $1,400.

“We have talked to Metro to see what its policy is, how often they empty cans at bus stops,” Hungerford said. “We were told they have no code, just results of ridership. If there is increased ridership, they empty cans as often as three times a week, and others (with less ridership) twice or once a week.”

Posting additional no littering signs with a message about a steep fine could help, Hungerford said.

City staff also is working with fast food restaurants in an effort to reduce trash.

“We are looking to gain support from fast food restaurants because a lot of what we find are fast food wrappers, bags and cups,” Hungerford said. “We can approach those groups to see if they would put up keep Kent beautiful don’t litter signs or maybe put messages on their bags to put it in a can.”

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