By MIKE WILLIAMS
Pulaski Bikes owner Mike McMillion told Pulaski Town Council last week that, while he likes its new brand, the town is still plagued by the same old problems.
“I like the town’s new brand, ‘Where your new path begins,’” said McMillion. “My business sits at the end of that path and while we have a new brand, we’ve got the same old problems.”
McMillion touched on littering, violent crime, drug use and more that he said continues to occur around his business in the Pulaski Depot, in Kiwanis Park and along the Dora Trail that leads from downtown Pulaski to the New River Trail State Park.
“The chief called litter a ‘one second crime.’ It’s a one second crime that’s happening repeatedly,” McMillion told council.
McMillion said three weeks earlier people were drinking under the “troll bridge” at Kiwanis Park. “We called police and as far as I know, no one was cited. The officer said, ‘Nah, they’re alright,’ like it was a health and welfare check,” he recalled.
McMillion said at one end of the depot over 400 cigarette butts had to be cleaned up. “Last year people were smoking around the depot. We had a conversation with the police and a parks employee, but no signs were put back up and no smoking wasn’t enforced,” he said.
“I’m at a loss to find polite words to describe the type of behavior we’re seeing down there,” McMillion said, noting not all the offenders are transients and some are homeless.
“Two or three years ago we had a stabbing in our homeless camp and people said, ‘Why do you have a homeless camp?’ It’s still in there. The town got one cleaned up over here and now there’s another one over there. I’m not asking for any new ordinances, we don’t need new laws. We just need zero tolerance for the ones we have,” McMillion stated.
He complained that while the speed limit on Dora Highway beside the park is 25 mph, people routinely round the curve onto the street and go “zero to 50.”
“That’s a one second crime too, and it’s got to be stopped,” he noted.
McMillion told council he could tell them stories all day about people coming into town and asking, “why is this and why is that.”
“I’m challenging you (council) to set higher standards for our grand old lady of Pulaski (depot) and the surrounding area on the trail. I guess what I’m doing is petitioning the town administration, staff, the mayor, council and the police department to clean up the trash and keep it clean. Not just for a week or two. It’s not a problem you can address and it just goes away. It comes right back. We need long-term, continued results,” McMillion said.
He added that he won’t pretend that drinking in public can be eliminated, “but if we write enough fines somebody will do it someplace else.”
“Drug use in the park went down once we started paying attention to it,” McMillion said.
He said the problems aren’t just enforcement issues, but are social issues as well.
“We have these free handouts and folks coming down here to take advantage of that. I’m seeing a whole bunch of people in our town every two or three weeks who aren’t from here. They’re part of our 40 percent rental group too. They get a voucher and they come down here because they couldn’t find a place for them in Roanoke,” McMillion said.
“I can’t continue doing business down there much longer if this is the way it’s going to work,” McMillion added.
“We’re spending lots of money on the lighting project on Route 99. We’re trying to get people downtown, so you get them through the front door and now you have to worry about what greets them and what will get them to come back. This week, two different people told me about horrible experiences they’d had on the Dora Trail, with their children in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week. Not only at night, but during the day. It’s a constant situation that needs our attention,” McMillion said.
“It’s not safe. As a business owner who depends on that trail being safe, I hate to make a big public issue out of it, but it’s not safe,” McMillion exclaimed.
“Why are we still having this discussion,” asked Vice Mayor Greg East.
“We passed a resolution two or three months ago that we’d have a police presence in the park at all times or at least at different times during the day. I get a sense from Mr. McMillion that hasn’t happened,” East said.
“It’s not enough to have an officer roll through,” McMillion said. “They actually have to spend time in there (on the trail) too. There hasn’t been a complete vacuum of police presence, just not enough to be effective at this point.”
“The resolution we passed was worded to address this problem and I’m disappointed we haven’t made progress or very little progress. We’re just not getting it right and that’s unacceptable,” said East.
Town Manager Shawn Utt said the resolution East spoke of added funds to the police department’s bike patrol.
“Everything comes down to funds,” East said. “We had a resolution passed by the full council and we need to make it work.”
Councilman Joseph Goodman agreed.
“We’re trying to rebuild our community here and show we’re a place worth visiting, worth spending money in and hopefully worth living in. It perplexes me the most that this just continues and continues and continues.”
Goodman said a plan must be developed to deter the issues that are being seen on the trail. “The trail is one of our most valuable assets for getting people to visit this community. We want them to come from Draper all the way into town. It’s beyond disappointing.”
Goodman offered a motion requiring staff to come back at the next meeting (Tuesday) with a plan to implement community policing measures on the Dora Trail.
Council approved the motion 6-0.
Responding to Councilman Jamie Radcliffe about the possible use of cameras to monitor the trail, Police Chief Gary Roche told council he has eight bicycle officers currently, four of whom are administrative officers working daylight. “That leaves four on shifts,” he said, adding more officers are being trained for bike patrol.
Roche told council last month his officers worked 1,200 calls.
“For the past 2 ½ years we’ve run skeleton crews to try and get all this leave time off. Some people I’ve put off work for six straight months. I can’t invent or ‘poof’ somebody out there,” Roche said about bike patrols.
“When I have a shift working with two or three people and we’re running all those calls and I have somebody on a bike they can’t get anywhere else very fast. They have to come back to the building to get their car to go back up a person doing something by themselves because someone’s on a bike. That is the reality,” he added.
Roche noted he had asked for 2 ½ years to have the brush cut back from the trail and that hasn’t yet happened.
“Move all that away from the trail and all those people camping and drinking right on the edge of the trail are moved way off it. That is community policing.”
“We’re not saying all this falls on your department,” Goodman told Roche. “That’s why the motion is for all the staff to come up with a plan. Public works with the brush, adjacent property owners, this encompasses the whole problem.”