Commissioners worry money for litter pickup will be cut

Mar. 23—The Whitman County Commissioners are concerned about a bill making its way through the Washington Legislature that could take away funding for the county to clean up trash along its roads.

Senate Bill 5040, which was passed in the Senate and is now in the House, requires the Department of Ecology to prioritize litter control along state highways when it distributes funds for agency litter collection programs.

"It's a dumb idea in my opinion because most of the trash is along rural roads," Commissioner Art Swannack said Monday.

Swannack said he knows from living on a rural county road that those streets are targets for big trash dumps.

"There might be a little trash on the state highway, but the rural roads are where a few stupid people go out and dump all their garbage at one time into piles that need to be cleaned up," he said.

Whitman County Public Works Director Mark Storey said Whitman County uses state money to clean up litter "all the time." He said the county most recently received nearly $60,000 from the state in grant money for this purpose, plus an extra $12,000 in money left over after other counties did not spend their share of the fund.

"We use it every year on state highways and county roads." Storey said. "That's what we do. It's a well-used fund and it helps us pick up the big messes that people leave around."

As an example, he said trash is a problem particularly following the end of Washington State University's spring semester. That's when there have been incidents of students dumping TVs and couches.

Storey said the county hires a crew of young men and women every summer to pick up litter along the roads. County staff will also clean up particular areas that are reported for having trash.

He said if that money that typically goes to counties gets absorbed by the Department of Transportation, no one will even notice what it is used for. He said it will just be a "drop in the bucket" for the department.

According to information from the bill, a tax is imposed on businesses whose products, including packaging, wrapping and containers, are related to littering. The types of products that fall under this tax include beer, cigarettes, soft drinks, newspapers and magazines, glass containers, metal containers, and household paper and paper products.

The revenues from the litter tax are allocated to the Department of Ecology from the Waste Reduction, Recycling, and Litter Control Account. Ecology is the coordinating agency between organizations and local governments that receive funding for litter control.

Anthony Kuipers can be reached at