Can we all agree that the best way to stop the area's heroin epidemic is to keep the dealers from being here, accessible to users?
With that as the consensus backdrop, a proposal two Williamsport City Councilmen are detailing this city budget season is certainly worth consideration.
Council President Bill Hall and Vice President Jonathan Williamson believe they have a viable alternative to Mayor Gabriel J. Campana's proposed rental properties ordinance. For the record, we support the spirit of the mayor's proposal but not the practice of City Hall being in control of individual records of who lives where in the city.
Hall and Williamson believe their alternative can produce the same results without any significant tax increase.
They believe police and Lycoming County District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt are doing their part, but also believe a codes solution would augment the anti-heroin efforts.
Key elements include:
To complement Mayor Campana's initiative to replace and add street lights, a bright lights program would reimburse costs for the installation by homeowners of motion sensor outdoor lights. The program would be funded $100,000 per year for two years by gas impact fees.
Any rental property would be required to install the sensor lights to receive a license to rent.
The codes department would be overhauled, doubling in size and enhancing the ability of officers to enforce existing laws. Salaries would be increased to make joining the department more attractive and the department would be equipped with vehicles, mobile computer devices and software to make it easier to track and enforce violations. Employees would be trained in self-defense techniques and the use of pepper spray.
The first year retooling costs for the codes department are estimated at $400,000, about a half-mill in taxes. But if properly managed, the councilmen believe the increased cost could be covered by increased revenue from fines, penalties and permits so that the department becomes self-sustaining.
We would hope some of that increased revenue would come from stiff fines on slumlords who are not abiding by the terms of city codes and, if it comes to pass, the mayor's rental ordinance. It should hurt slumlords in the pocketbook to violate city codes, with escalating fines for repeat offenders.
Mayor Campana blasted the proposal of the two councilmen as proof that they "sympathize with slumlords."
That is a disappointing reaction from a mayor who, as a councilman, endlessly had counterproposals on city issues that he demanded be taken seriously, without any regard to how those ideas would impact the sitting administrations.
The police are doing their jobs and court officials are doing their jobs, but they need help, especially considering a bag of easily accessible heroin costs about $7.
The city codes personnel are producing effort at this time, but most objective observers would admit they need more resources.
To the extent this proposal would provide that, it should be given strong consideration in the coming weeks.
In and of itself, it may not be an answer.
But the city is in a fight for self-preservation. Imagine Williamsport is a ship taking on water, courtesy of heavy drug traffic and a slipshod rental property situation.
Everyone has to bail water to keep the ship afloat.
We like the spirit of what Mayor Campana is trying to do with his landlord-tenant ordinance. But we need everyone's efforts to solve the current problems.
Parts of what the two councilmen are proposing in concert with parts of what Mayor Campana is proposing and augmented by the broader efforts of the recently convened heroin task force would represent a strong battery of weapons against heroin.
Simply dismissing ideas or painting those proposing them as enemies won't help anyone. The solution to this situation will not come from one person but rather from a positive, proactive, comprehensive community approach that addresses all parts of the problem.