Widener considers curfew as one way to curb vandalism

WIDENER (Times-Herald) - The City Council on Monday voted to allow Mayor Arvin Billingsley to apply for a grant for street work and also discussed a possible curfew for young people.

The council also discussed taking action on a dilapidated house that has caused complaints over standing water in the basement.

Billingsley told the council that he had found out through the state Department of Economic Development that Widener could apply for more than $700,000 for street work.

"There are a couple of criteria," said Billingsley. "One of them is the city has to have 51 percent low to moderate income. I think we qualify for that."

He said at least some work would be done on every street in town if the money is received.

The council unanimously approved a resolution to allow Billingsley to apply for the grant.

On the subject of a curfew, Billingsley asked the council for their thoughts on the matter.

Council member David Green said, "We need it badly."

Billingsley said city hall was recently spray painted, and was cleaned off.

"I don't know what we can do to curb that," said Billingsley. "I've spoken to several in the community about it, and the reply was three days of dead birds in my mailbox. I'm fine with that. I'm going to speak some more about it."

Councilman Ronnie Barnett said he thought the council had passed a curfew, back during the administration of Dot Halford.

"I don't know if we could find it," said Barnett.

"I couldn't find anything in our ordinance book," said Billingsley.

Billingsley continued, "After a certain hour, they ought to be off the streets anyway unless they're in a vehicle going somewhere with their parents."

"Being in their own yard is one thing," said Barnett. "But being out in the street..."

Forrest City has a curfew law, and a couple of council members suggested looking at it to get some ideas.

City attorney Alvin Simes also told the group that the city could set some standards; for instance, 10 p.m. during the week and midnight on weekends.

"But you have to allow for some exceptions," Simes said. He also said there are notice requirements if the city is going to have a curfew.

Simes also told the council that if the people who are doing the vandalism are 18 or over, a curfew won't work.

Councilman Cleve Whitby said he believes something is needed, particularly since there are plans for a new city park, which could be subject to vandalism.

Barnett also suggested more police patrols.

After some more discussion, it was the consensus of the council to continue studying it.

Since the park was mentioned, Billingsley said a lot of planning and paperwork is being done on the park. The city was recently informed that it would receive up to $45,000 from Arkansas Parks and Tourism for the construction of a park, which will include a basketball court, playground equipment, picnic pavilion, picnic tables, cooking grills, benches, litter receptacles and parking. It is hoped that work on the park can begin in April.

The dilapidated building in question is on Adams Street, just down the street from city hall. The house itself has burned, and water has filled the basement - no one is sure how deep. Billingsley estimated eight feet and Whitby said it was more like 10 feet.

"I keep hearing complaints from people: 'I have young kids, what are you going to do?' And if I lived next to it and had a small child, I'd be banging on the mayor's door every day," admitted Billingsley.

He said he sent a letter to the owner last year, "to no avail."

Billingsley said he was hoping that Simes could help them do something about it legally.

"What it needs, I guess, is to be pumped out, pushed in and filled up," said Billingsley. "The owner is probably not going to like that. But it's time for us to move a little further on the matter."

Simes said he would need a copy of the letter that has already been sent to the owner. He said he could try filing an emergency petition to get something done about it, because it constitutes a danger. A regular petition would give the owner 30 days to reply, and Simes said during that 30 days, the danger would remain.

He said if an emergency petition is granted, the city could pump out the basement. Simes repeated that he would need a copy of the letter the city has already been sent.

Billingsley said a copy of the letter would be provided to Simes.

"I mean, how would we be as city officials, if something bad did happen, when we've been sitting here bumping jaws with him (the owner) for over a year now?" said Billingsley. "They're going to say, 'Well, y'all haven't done your job to protect the people.' I'll go over there and pump it out."

Simes said the city could ask a judge for permission to pump out the water. The council passed a motion to proceed.

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