MIAMI – All the fuss over a big mess of trash has left a South Florida minister feeling helpless.
"It's not right," Helen Jenkins said. "If you were in my place, what would you do?"
Jenkins has been pastor of Saint City Church of God on Northwest 22nd Avenue in Miami's Brownsville area ever since the death of her husband, the founding pastor.
A Miami-Dade code enforcement officer posted a violation notice on the church's fence earlier this month for "unauthorized bulky waste on the right-of-way." The violation came with a $210 fine.
"From what I know, the property of the church starts inside the fence," Jenkins said. A pile of garbage and construction debris was left piled up on the sidewalk outside of the church.
"I even took one of the inspectors inside the church to let them see that none of the stuff that was on the pile came out of our church," Ulysses Richardson said.
Richardson is a member of the church and tends the grounds.
"They still say it's our property -- something about the right-of-way," he said.
Richardson said he rented a U-haul truck one Sunday morning, cleaned up the garbage and hauled it away. He said it cost him close to $200 out of his own pocket.
That same day, someone dumped an old toilet in the same spot.
"We [have] a small church," he said. "We can't afford that, and they told us every time someone dumps, regardless, we have to remove it. That's not fair."
But, apparently, that's the law in Miami-Dade County, spelled out in Section 15-5 of the county's code of ordinances.
"Property owners are responsible for maintaining and preventing accumulation, even if it's not theirs," said the county's deputy director of solid waste operations, Michael Fernandez.
Fernandez said the ordinance helps ensure the county's right-of-ways don't become "unsightly."
We asked if innocent property owners being forced to pay to clean up trash left behind by illegal dumpers warranted a policy change.
Fernandez, who chairs an illegal dumping task force, said that's something the task force is looking into, along with funding and other issues.
He said the church can appeal the violation. Jenkins showed us a copy of the appeal letter she plans to submit to the county in order to schedule a hearing.
The church is not a residence, so calling for a bulk-item pickup is not an option available to them.
The county tells the Leave it to Layron team that it will be installing a "No Dumping" sign near the church to deter any future illegal dumping. Jenkins said that's something the church has asked for.
"I wouldn't want the community to look bad," she said.
When the LITL team asked Fernandez about increased enforcement when it comes to illegal dumping, we were told officers can't be everywhere in the county's 320-square-mile area, but he encouraged anyone who sees illegal dumping going on to report it to 311.
He also said to take photos, get a vehicle tag number or call the police. Authorities can investigate and hold those who are actually guilty responsible.
The penalty for illegal dumping can be as high as $5,000.
If you have a problem, send an email to the Leave it to Layron team at Layron@Local10.com.