Clean Up Marion! kickoff event set for April 21

The Marion County Litter Task Force will report on its program successes, with a guest appearance by Rubbish the Raccoon.

Commissioner Craig Curry, right, talks about the Litter Task Force he is working on creating with Lacey Larramore of Marion County Environmental Services Solid Waste, left, at the McPherson Governmental Complex in Ocala, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.

Home » Government
Posted April 14, 2023 | By Belea T. Keeney

If you’ve ever wanted to see a raccoon dance to a rap song, here’s your chance. Rubbish the Raccoon, a mascot developed for the Marion County Litter Task Force, will be making a special guest appearance at the Clean Up Marion! kickoff event on Friday, April 21. The press conference begins at 8:30 a.m., and speakers will talk about the issues and successes Marion County has had recently in tackling the county’s litter problem.

The celebration is a nod to Earth Day and includes guest speakers Sheriff Billy Woods; Litter Task Force Chair Beth McCall; Board of County Commissioners Chair Craig Curry; Robby Creech from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission; State Attorney Bill Gladson; Supervisor of Elections Wesley Wilcox; Greg Harrell, Clerk of the Court; Marion County Public Schools staffers; and the team from the Solid Waste Department.

Rubbish will definitely be there dancing to the ‘Throw it Away’ rap song,” stated Bobbie Perez, Marion County Public Relations Director, via email. The first 100 people to attend will receive a No Horsin’ Around T-shirt.

After the main speakers are done, and Rubbish shakes his booty, Adopt-A-Road groups will break out and go to assigned roadways to clean up litter. You don’t have to be a member of a group to join in the clean-up; all are welcome to help out.

Trash Means Dollars and Cents

The numbers say a lot about litter in Marion County—1.4 million pounds of litter collected in 2022; $900,000 spent collecting litter; 54,800 hours spent collecting litter; and 120,000 pounds of litter collected monthly. That’s a lot of litter. And time and money.

For Marion County Board of County Commissioner Chair, litter is a personal issue.

“This is my home. I was born and raised here,” Curry said in his soft Southern drawl. “When I ran for office, [litter] was one of the platforms I ran on. Beautification of the area, but particularly [getting rid of] the garbage.”

Being a lifelong resident and native made Curry eager to take up the reins of the Litter Task Force, a multi-department and multi-jurisdictional effort. The task force is comprised of employees of the sheriff’s office, solid waste, public schools, judicial court, the city police departments in Marion County (Belleview, Dunnellon and Ocala), the state Fish & Wildlife team, plus the state attorney’s office.

The task force worked together on its mission: to create a plan to “educate and change the mindset of those negatively impacting our community.” Their work was multi-faceted, encompassing enforcement, deterrence, marketing and education.

Education is key, Curry said. By preventing litter in the first place, the county and taxpayers save money.

A large pile of trash is shown dumped behind the baseball field at Forest High School in Ocala, Fla.. on Friday, April 1, 2022. Some school officials said that the garbage, which includes household trash, mattresses and a grill and many other items were dumped by someone during Spring Break at the back of the school property. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.

Marion County spends more than $900,000 annually dealing with litter. Curry estimated the city of Ocala spends as much or more on litter control, and with Belleview and Dunnellon in the mix said, “This is a multi-million-dollar issue. If we could change hearts and minds—and not just focus on the picking up part—we could run it like a campaign. To change people’s minds and change their behaviors.”

Beyond just the ugliness of debris, litter and garbage in the county, for Curry, it’s also about saving tax dollars.

“One thing people ask politicians is for us to watch the tax dollars and try to conserve costs for the county to pick up litter,” he said. The typical tax bill for solid waste in Marion County is about $87, Curry says. “If we can save on litter control, that will help” save on taxes for residents.

The hope is that the task force’s “No Horsin’ Around” campaign, will help prevent litter from happening.

“We have a lot of dumping issues,” Curry said. “It’s not just things flying out of the bed of a pickup, but people actually dumping garbage and debris.”

Task Force Develops Mission and Message        

To help engage the public in the campaign, the task force developed a new mascot, Rubbish, the Raccoon, to serve as a visual element that people, especially schoolchildren, could relate to. Rubbish makes special guest appearances at various county events to raise awareness about litter.

By implementing prevention programs in the school system, the hope is that the positive peer pressure from students to one another and from students to their parents will also help with the issue.

“A student can remind his dad to tie down that load,” in a truck, Curry said, and avoid debris in the roadway.

The Adopt a Road program has also been beefed up. Groups commit to a quarterly clean-up of litter from a specific one-mile section of roadway (both sides) for litter removal at least four times per year. The county acknowledges their work with a sign on the roadway. Groups work during daylight hours only, in good weather, and must use county provided safety vests, traffic control signs and litter bags. The group also provides a report of each clean-up, and the county picks up the collected bags.

In December of 2022, the BOCC recognized the Ocala Parrotheads Club for being long-time participants in the Adopt-A-Road program. The group “has shown years of dedication in this program and has acted as a model for other participants. Their dedication has had a major impact on helping keep Marion County roadways clean.”

Carrot vs. Stick Approach

“We’re not trying to put everybody in jail, we’re not trying to use the stick,” Curry said. The carrot is lower taxes, pride in the area and beautification of the community. But, Curry concedes, not all respond to the carrot, and some still need the stick.

The “stick” was the complete revamp of county littering ordinances, which now conform to state law. The fines were beefed up.

“The previous fines were meaningless,” Curry admitted. And jail time and public service was added. Judges are aware of new ordinance and can assign litter clean up as service hours, which seems especially appropriate for littering violations.

A first violation is a $150 fine; the second violation is a $300 and jail time for up to 10 days and/or community service. For repeat offenders, penalties are a $500 fine, up to 60 days of jail time and community service hours.

Solid Waste Supervisor Lacey Larramore pointed out that dumping can move a violation from a civil to a criminal offense with attendant fines and service.

“Dumping isn’t the same as a tossing a McDonald’s bag or a soda can,” she said.

Larramore and Curry discussed a big dumping offense currently ready to be charged by the state attorney’s office under the new ordinances.

Over 2 tons of “roofing materials and construction debris from a home re-do,” Curry described. “All of that was dumped in the national forest. The subcontractor lived in Duval County, came through Marion County and apparently decided not to bother with tipping fees or whatever and dumped the whole load in the forest. Little did they know they had dumped in a county that had just put a year into developing an anti-dumping ordinance with serious enforcement behind it.”

County and Fish & Wildlife staff went through the debris and found an address that was the site of the house down in Seminole County.

“At the house, they found a template for the countertop that matched the debris found. They then worked back through the contractor, the subs, etc,” Curry reported. The culprit was tracked down and the case is awaiting formal charges.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office now has a deputy on litter detail two days a week. In addition to sheriff’s deputies, the county also enlisted the aid of park rangers, animal control officers, three solid waste code officers, and code enforcement, trained already, which allows for these staffers to issue citations for littering and give warnings.

“That’s the best way to lower taxes and deliver services,” Curry said. Having multiple staffers able to report—and enforce— the ordinance costs less than a sole department.

Curry is proud of momentum of the program. The BOCC initially earmarked $150,000 to the program for advertising, billboards, TV, stickers for kids, and Rubbish the Raccoon costume.

Larramore agrees. “It helps to have the buy-in [to combat littering] and to have the commission on your side. They’re passionate, it’s something they care about. And that helps the voters and the employees” get more enthused about the issue.

“It’s almost like a perfect project,” Larramore said. “Because everyone knows it’s a problem. The vast majority think it’s a huge problem. And you can chip away at lowering taxes too.”

You’ll probably be seeing more of Marion, the No Horsin’ Around logo horse, and Rubbish the Raccoon in the next few months. Larramore said the department plans to wrap trash cans in parks with the logo, two Sun-Tran buses and also some solid waste trucks, in addition to social media postings, local TV ads and more.

For Curry, the goal in a perfect world would be, “As close to zero litter as we can get. The main thing is to change the minds of the population. If people don’t care and they like it the way it is, then it will stay the same.”



What: Clean Up Marion! and press conference

When: 8:30 a.m., April 21

Where: Baseline Road Trailhead, 4255 SE 58th Ave.

For more info:

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