Methadone clinic expansion still up in the air

A final decision on a Special Exception request from Pulaski Medical is likely over a month away following the matter being tabled again Wednesday night by Pulaski Town Council.

Also at Wednesday’s first meeting of 2019, council voted 5-1 to provide Pulaski Area Transit with level funding of $70,000 for the fourth year in a row.

The request for a Special Exception was tabled originally back on Dec. 7 following a joint meeting of council and the town’s Planning Commission.

Pulaski Medical wants to add a 6,099 square foot addition to its facility at 1006 East Main Street – next to the Shelor Motor Mile dealership – to handle an expected increase in its number of clients from around 600 per month to as many as 900.

An outpatient mental health and substance abuse clinic – often referred to as a methadone clinic – Pulaski Medical lies in the town’s B-2 General Business District.

Such a clinic is allowed in a B-2 District, but only with an “approved special exception.”

According to town officials, the clinic is considered “non-conforming” since Pulaski Medical went into operation prior to a change in the town’s zoning ordinance requiring an approved special exception for such clinics. Because it is non-conforming, the clinic’s expansion cannot be approved until Pulaski Medical’s request for a special exception is approved.

At the Dec. 7 joint meeting, officials from Pulaski Medical presented their case in support of the expansion, and responded to a battery of questions from council and planning commission members.

The planning commission then convened its own meeting elsewhere in the Municipal Building. The commission’s job is to make a recommendation to council whether or not to approve the special exception. Council takes the commission’s recommendation into consideration when it makes its final decision on the request.

Planners that night chose to table the matter for further study, which allowed council to do the same.

At their meeting this past Wednesday, council members voted to “un-table” the request from Pulaski Medical.

Town Manager Shawn Utt told council that Pulaski Medical has asked the planning commission to continue to table the matter until its meeting in February. In the meantime, on Jan. 14 Pulaski Medical wants to host town officials in a tour of its clinic facility.

Council then tabled the request again to allow for participation in the Jan. 14 tour.

Action on the special exception request isn’t expected until the town’s February work session, Feb. 19 at 5 p.m.

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Pulaski Area Transit Manager Monica Musick provided council with a brief history of the transit since it began in October of 2005. Then, Musick noted, PAT averaged 25 riders per day.  By the end of 2018, Musick said, PAT had recorded 150,000 riders for the year with buses traveling 270,000 miles.

Musick said the transit went from a “fixed route” to something “more like a taxi service,” prompting council to request PAT go back to the fixed route, which they did in 2018.

Musick said the move had resulted in less wait times for passengers, but ridership has dipped as well.

She noted the transit is looking at ways to increase ridership, including adding four new stops – Pulaski County Library, Heritage Park, the old “Quick Shop” location on Randolph Avenue and the former location of Martin’s Pharmacy on Main Street.

Musick requested council again approve level funding at $70,000, which will be part of its $620,548 budget submitted soon to the State Department of Rail and Public Transit.

Musick noted that PAT will request level funding from Pulaski County again this year as well at $62,000.

She told council any funds raised by the PAT’s annual golf tournament or other fundraisers would go toward the town’s funding match.

Councilman Brooks Dawson asked Musick if the route changes would result in any expense savings.  She noted it would result in some fuel expense savings.

Councilman Lane Penn raised concerns over some senior citizens no longer being able to ride the transit because they can’t get to one of the pickup points on the fixed route.

Musick said those citizens could file ADA applications to make it possible for the transit to pick them up at their homes, with the rider filling out half of the application and their doctor filling out the other half.

Penn discounted the effectiveness of that process, saying it could take up to 21 days for approval.

In the end, council voted 5-1 to approve $70,000 in support for PAT, with only Penn voting against.

By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot