First Posted: 8/21/2009
Is a curfew needed in Mount Airy to prevent such incidents as a recent church fire?
A member of the city Board of Commissioners wants an answer to that question.
South Ward Commissioner David Beal brought up the idea of a curfew which would keep young people off the streets at certain times of the night during a meeting of the board Thursday night.
That matter wasnt on its agenda for action or discussion, but arose during a period at the end of the meeting when individual commissioners regularly offer general comments about issues affecting the city.
Beal said he was floating the concept of a curfew for Mount Airy based on two recent occurrences. One was a late-July fire that caused $175,000 in damages to Closer Walk Baptist Church on Roberts Street, for which three teens have been charged with a pair of felonies each.
The other occurrence was a family vacation Beal took to Myrtle Beach, S.C.
While those two events have no outward relationship to each other, Beal explained that he learned while on the trip that Myrtle Beach now has a curfew. That law, which went into effect last December, prohibits teens under age 18 from being out between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. without a valid reason.
Beal said he thought the idea of such a curfew in Mount Airy should be researched after listening to what we went through in the investigation of the Closer Walk fire.
A city detective who helped probe the blaze has blamed undisciplined juveniles for the incident, citing bands of youths roaming unsupervised in the city during the nighttime. The church was broken into and set on fire in the early morning hours of July 26.
Investigators said that several youths of interest were located in the vicinity of the blaze and questioned soon after it was reported, which has led to the arrests of the three youths. The church pastor has said that teens who allegedly were involved came to the scene while firefighters were bringing the blaze under control and pretended to be sympathetic about what happened.
The mother of one of those arrested also has been charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor for allegedly supplying alcohol and marijuana rolling papers to those implicated.
Beals suggestion about a curfew is expected to lead to a review by the city attorney and staff members about whether such a law can be applied to Mount Airy. The former police chief and State Bureau of Investigation agent added that he was unsure of the legalities involved with such a measure, but South Carolina has it and theyre making good use of it.
The Myrtle Beach curfew is based on the concept that when out during the night, some teens are not mature enough to make proper decisions, and their behavior can be further compromised by involvement with alcohol or drugs.
Beal pointed out that the law in the resort community makes exceptions for emergencies and youths who are accompanied by their parents.
SRO Plan Approved
Also Thursday night, Mount Airys commissioners unanimously approved an agreement with the local school system concerning the school resource officer program at Mount Airy High School.
While a city police officer has been assigned to the campus for several years, recent budget cuts on the state level forced a restructuring of the arrangement. That essentially has made the city government responsible for funding the position in the summers when school is out of session, due to state money no longer being available for that period.
The $37,838 now allotted by the state for each SRO covers about 75 percent of the costs of providing the officer now serving the high school.
In approving the restructured pact Thursday night, the commissioners agreed to provide the extra money needed for the position for a five-year period, which the city can opt out of if the state ceases its funding.
However, Commissioner Todd Harris said he wanted an assurance that no restrictions were being placed on the officer by the school system which would hamper effective law enforcement. One, for example, would have prevented that officer from leaving the campus if extra manpower was needed for an emergency elsewhere in Mount Airy.
Such stipulations drew concerns from police and other city officials when the proposed new agreement was first discussed last winter. Another condition would have allowed the SRO to be assigned to different schools, which municipal leaders thought would spread the officer too thin.
Capt. Dale Watson, who represented city police at Thursdays commissioners meeting in place of Chief Roger McCreary, said all those issues had been settled and there is no concern at all about the agreement that has been tweaked since the winter.
Also Thursday night, City Manager Don Brookshire gave a brief update concerning municipal water and sewer charges, which stemmed from a recent request by a local businessman.
Gene Rees, who owns a cleaning company on Frederick Street in addition to other business interests, had approached the board on July 15 asking it to consider implementing an evaporation credit.
Such a credit would make an allowance for the sewer charges included in city utility bills, which are based on the assumption that the amount of water taken in by a company is the same as whats released into the wastewater system.
However, Rees said that in a business such as his which washes uniforms, restaurant linens and other items water is lost through drying and other processes. He told city officials in July that an engineers study revealed a 34-percent loss of its water intake through evaporation.
Brookshire presented his report Thursday night at the request of Commissioner Jon Cawley, who had asked for a speedy resolution concerning Rees request during an Aug. 6 meeting.
Ive been working on this Ive been researching the issue, the city manager said.
However, Brookshire said that as a matter of policy, more was needed to implement an evaporation credit than relying on the word of one citizen based on a study he commissioned.
Weve got to have a systematic method of addressing that, he said.
The city manager pledged to continue researching ways to apply an evaporation credit in a way that is fair and equitable to all concerned.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.