Reporter: Ellie Mahan
August 25, 2021
Hill County has had more than 50 cases of illegal dumping this year. Two years ago, the Hill County Sheriff’s Office appointed Jeff Ward as the environmental deputy. Ward investigates cases of illegal dumping and ensures that abandoned items are properly disposed of. People illegally dump a wide range of items, including furniture, trash and tires, and they frequently drop the trash off on county roads.
Ward said, “It’s everything from old hot tubs to household trash to furniture, couches, love-seats, chairs, whatever they feel they want to get rid of and don’t want to follow the lawful means of disposal. I have thousands and thousands of pictures of debris on the side of the road that myself and the road crew and our inmates are picking up, and it’s getting lawfully disposed of. It’s costing the county quite a bit of money to go out and be a county-funded trash service. That’s why I’m here to try to stop that the best I can.”
The penalty for illegal dumping varies based on the weight of the trash that is dropped off. The charge for dumping five pounds of trash or less is a class C misdemeanor, and the fine does not exceed $500.
Dumping between five and 500 pounds of trash is a Class B misdemeanor, with a possible fine of up to $2,000 and possible confinement in jail for a period less than 180 days.
Subjects who dump between 500 and 1,000 pounds of trash are charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a possible fine of up to $4,000 and possible confinement for up to one year.
Dumping more than 1,000 pounds of trash is a state jail felony, with the penalty a fine of $10,000 or less and a possible confinement lasting between 180 days and two years.
Working to combat the issue, the county installed cameras in frequent dumping locations. Ward said that these cameras have helped the officials gather enough evidence on suspects to file a case.
Ward said, “We’re 986 square miles, I understand. We are a rural county, so there are a ton of places to go do it and not get caught, not be seen. Right now all deputies can address illegal dumping, and they try to, but they are inundated with other calls. I’m the only deputy that is dedicated to that. Also, I back up the other deputies as well on their other calls.”
Ward spends a lot of time driving from one side of the county to the other to investigate cases of illegal dumping. He works some weekends, nights and holidays to track down suspects, but he said that he can’t catch them all, as much as he would like to. Ward said as the county experiences population growth, hiring more personnel focused on illegal dumping and similar crimes may help mitigate the issue.
“I want to be able to make a large difference here, and I think I’ve made some difference,” Ward said. “We are working positively together, mending the community. That’s what we need. We need to be able to look into the future and be progressive with this and see that we may need another officer.”
Ward enlists the help of trustee inmate labor to clean up discarded items in Hill County.
About the trustee inmates, he said, “They’re happy to be able to get out there and do things. I try to keep them motivated to realize that you are helping society when you’re doing this, and if you’re picking up trash, you are helping Hill County. They seem to place value in what they’re doing and want to do it right. Those guys are motivating me. They’re egging me on saying, ‘I sure hope you get these people.’”
Ward, other deputies and Hill County commissioners work together to prevent illegal dumping and to keep the county clean.