Omaha City Council pondering hike in fines for littering

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July 30th, 2014

Omaha, NE – In early May a large family get-together at Benson Park in Omaha caused quite a stir.

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After holding a barbeque with more than 100 people, trash was left scattered all about the park. Raw meat, paper plates, beer cans and bottles were littered all around, according to Vice President of the Omaha city council, Ben Gray.

By the following Tuesday’s city council meeting, officials voiced concern over the matter. Councilman Gray, represents district two in Omaha. He said he received a call from a woman from the family who held the barbeque at Benson Park. He said she was so appalled at what had taken place that she got a group of family members to help clean up the mess. Councilman Gray said it’s vital to keep Omaha clean and attractive because Omaha is building its reputation.

“To keep the city beautiful, you want to have as clean a city as you possibly can,” Councilman Gray said. “This is as we move forward to try to attract new business and encourage new business that is already here to expand. It gives them confidence that the city is running appropriately, and that we are doing the right things. This can only be done if we are keeping a fairly clean city, a fairly mobile city and a city that appears to be on the move, like we are now.”

One isolated incident at Benson Park in May has brought forward a possible hike in fines for littering at Omaha parks. (Courtesy KVNO News)

One isolated incident at Benson Park in May has brought forward a possible hike in fines for littering at Omaha parks. (Courtesy KVNO News)

This is why, according to Councilman Gray, a possible change to fines for littering in city parks was added to the city council agenda. A current fine for littering in an Omaha park is $100. The ordinance calls for a jump to $250. Parks and recreations director for the city of Omaha, Brook Bench, oversees 220 parks, 18 pools and 13 community centers in the city. He called the incident at Benson Park, the worst case of littering he has seen in nearly two decades.

“I think when people go somewhere to visit a park, a green space or the Bob Kerrey Bridge or wherever it may be, they kind of expect it to be clean,” Bench said. “We do our best job at the Parks Department to do that.”

Bench said an increase in the fine would be a good deterrent to future litterers.

“I think that we will get the message across that the city of Omaha does not want to tolerate leaving our parks a mess,” Bench said. “I think that this will send a message that will have a little bit more teeth to it.”

Keep Omaha Beautiful, a non-profit, is one of Omaha’s oldest environmental organizations, starting in 1959. Cindy Smiley is their director and she said they tout over 5,000 volunteers every year. Smiley said when events happen like at Benson Park, it gives many people the wrong vibe.

“Well they send a very bad message, to the initial area of the city and also to anyone coming from the outside of our city, in,” said Smilley.

Smilley said citizens and outsiders alike should be able to enjoy the best of what our city has to offer.

“That is where everybody goes to relax and play,” Smilley said. “We want our parks to be a scenic, lovely place for people to go to. We don’t want it trashed out.”

Councilman Gray agrees with Bench that a stiffer fine would deter anyone thinking of littering.

“I think the necessity for increasing the fine is to send a stronger message that we want to keep the city of Omaha clean,” Councilman Gray said.

The ordinance calls to amend Chapter 21 of the Omaha Municipal Code. The City Council adjourned for the day before getting to the item. The public hearing and the vote are set on the city council’s agenda for August 12th, according to Councilman Gray.

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