Aiming to provide an alternative for low-level offenders, Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp and District Attorney Coty Wamp intend to double the number of community service assignments and the miles of trash picked up in fiscal year 2024.
The siblings announced the effort in a news conference Tuesday outside the District Attorney's Office at the Hamilton County-Chattanooga Courts Building.
"This is an issue that matters to all the county," Weston Wamp said. "This is not just about beautifying and taking care of our wonderful county. It's also taking advantage of state grant dollars that are there, it's about being a good steward of taxpayer dollars, and it ultimately gives us the opportunity to prevent overcrowding in our jail."
In fiscal year 2022, the county handed out 818 community service assignments covering 3,136 miles. The Wamps hope to exceed 2,000 assignments in fiscal year 2024 and bring the number of miles to 6,000. In fiscal year 2016 the county placed 1,950 people in community service assignments, the mayor said.
Hamilton County mayor, district attorney aim to double trash pickup assignments, miles served
"Since 2016, the county's trash pickup program has dropped by 50%," the mayor said. "So it's dropped by a little more than half, and we have a huge opportunity here to ramp it back up."
Coty Wamp said she wants the District Attorney's Office to be able to prioritize violent offenders. Her office will be offering nonviolent offenders, particularly those in Sessions Court, more opportunities for alternative sentencing in the form of litter pickup rather than jail time.
This leniency could apply to people with low-level misdemeanor drug offenses or theft, Wamp offered as examples, but it would not extend to more severe crimes, such as assault.
"Imagine instead of going to jail or instead of spending your time not working, not doing anything while you're waiting for your case to be resolved, we're going to ask you to be productive and show us that you are sorry for the mistakes that you made, the offenses that you committed," the district attorney said. "Come back to court and show us that you've done your public work days, you've picked up the trash, and we're going to give you a break."
She added that will represent one of many opportunities for partnerships between the District Attorney's Office and Hamilton County government during the next several years. The Wamps were both sworn into their respective offices Sept. 1.
"You're going to see this again in the near future, I'm sure, because there are things that are going to matter to me that matter very greatly to our County Commission and our mayor," Coty Wamp said.
The county's general services administrator, Christy Cooper, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that drunk driving laws changed several years ago that made hours of community service more voluntary.
"Quite honestly, a lot of folks would rather sit in jail a few extra days than be on the side of the road picking up trash," Cooper said. "The problem with that is, it's a lot costlier to the county. It costs a lot more money to keep a person incarcerated in jail every day than it does to have someone in our program picking up trash."
County Commissioner Jeff Eversole, R-Ooltewah, also participated in the news conference Tuesday and said he regularly hears from constituents about trash piling up on the side of roads in Hamilton County. He brought the issue up at the end of a commission meeting in early January, noting Tuesday that the pandemic appeared to have an impact on the county's ability to fully utilize this program.
"I think it's a great opportunity for us to get back to doing the things that we were successful with in the past," Eversole said.