Lake Charles residents will now pay double the fines and face harsher penalties if they are caught littering, following action by the City Council on Wednesday.
City Council members voted 6-0 to change simple littering from a civil infraction to a criminal violation. Councilman Mary Morris abstained. This gives police the authority to issue tickets, which can be addressed in City Court.
Fines are now $200 for a first offense, $300 for a second offense and $500 for a third offense. Initially, the fines were $100 for a first offense, $150 for a second offense and $250 for a third offense.
The City Court can also assign litter pick-up hours and suspend a resident’s driver’s license for a third littering offense.
“As you can see, the city of Lake Charles is serious about litter,” said Mayor Nic Hunter. “It has been one of the top priorities of this administration. We hear constantly from the council and community of litter issues.”
Residents can report littering by calling the Calcasieu Parish hotline 493-LITR (5487). Complaints received within city limits will be forwarded to city police.
Hunter said the city also wants businesses and property owners to be more proactive in removing litter from their property. Once a city inspector finds litter and notifies the owners, they will have 24 hours to clean it up. Those who don’t comply within the deadline can be fined up to $500 per day.
“We realize a lot of litter starts in parking lots,” Hunter said. “Whether through rain or wind, it is blown into adjacent right-of-ways or waterways.”
Beforehand, business owners had 10 days to clean the property once a city inspector discovered trash or litter.
“In past what has happened is some business owners and property owners will use the entire window and wait until the ninth day,” Hunter said. “That is too long.”
Repeat offenders will have to appear in front of a city administrative officer and explain why they can’t keep their property clean.
“It’s part of being a good neighbor,” Hunter said of the enforcement. “People should be held to these high standards in Lake Charles.”
These changes don’t require council approval, Hunter said.
Hunter said the city plans to hire a new employee to focus solely on litter and other property standards violations. He said the position will be figured into next year’s budget.
“We are always cautious anytime there is a proposal to add city employees,” Hunter said. “We also realize the litter problem has reached a certain level, it justifies adding a new employee.”
Hunter said the city will continue to push initiatives, such as the Junior Park Program, which encourages children to pick up litter at city parks. The CARC in the Park Buddy Program, which began in October 2018, allows clients to spend two hours Monday through Friday picking up litter at five city parks.
The city also plans to launch the “Good Neighbor Award” every quarter. One resident or business within each council district will be awarded for keeping property free of litter. A citywide winner will also be announced each quarter.
“We also want to focus on the positive,” the mayor said. “There are a lot of people who are good neighbors and responsible property owners.”
Hunter said Team Green will also unveil a new logo and a plan to enhance membership and participation.
“We realize education is key,” he said. “We want to effect change on adults, but remember the next generation coming up.”