Batesville City Council hears comments, concerns about camping ordinance | White River Now | #citycouncil

Article by Emily Wang, White River Now

At last week’s Batesville City Council meeting, municipal leaders and residents discussed a proposed ordinance banning unauthorized camping within the city limits.

The ordinance would make it unlawful to camp on any non-residential, residential, or public property in the city without proper authorization. 

According to the ordinance, unauthorized camping can result in deposits of waste, trash, flammable debris, and other hazards. It also noted unauthorized camping frequently occurs on unattended or vacant properties, constituting criminal trespass. Violators would be fined $100 for the first day and not more than $50 for each day of continuance. Unauthorized campers on any city-owned property could be prosecuted for criminal trespass.

“I always tell folks we have a bit of paradise here. One of the things I appreciate is how clean it is kept,” Michael Beaumont told council members during the “Comments from Citizens” section of the meeting. “I ask the council to say ‘yes’ to the ordinance and keep its yard clean by voting ‘yes’ for the ban and to make it possible for children to spend their time at the bayou observing the beauty it has.” 

However, Barrett Moore urged caution in enforcing such an ordinance.

“I don’t want to speak against the previous comment, but my work with the church has seen the other side of the coin,” Moore said. He stressed the importance of having a plan and options for those affected by the potential ban, highlighting the complexities of addressing homelessness. 

“Before we do something like this, we have to have a plan for them to go somewhere. This is a problem without an easy solution. I appreciate the council trying to do something,” said Moore. “We want them to have a place to transition. I encourage you to have a plan and option for them to go and hope we can think about this ordinance.”

Another resident, Mike Wilson, echoed Moore’s sentiments, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive solution that considers the diverse circumstances of the homeless population. 

Wilson said his church has hosted a warming center and fixed breakfast on Saturdays for those in need.

“Over the last 30 days, we’ve served 650 meals for breakfast with about 20 to 25 children in that group,” he said. “Not all are homeless, but a number are…We can’t just say we can’t do this anymore. We have to have some place for these folks to go.” 

Kevin Kling advocated for differentiating between homeless individuals with and without substance abuse issues, arguing that measures should be taken to support those genuinely in need.

“Attempts in the past to have a homeless shelter have been put out. Now all they have are tents. I understand some do drugs or alcohol, but what about the actual people who are homeless because they got fired or are trying — now we’re going to kick them out? I’m here speaking on behalf of the people who do not have an alcohol or drug problem who are homeless. There should be someplace they can go to.”

Mayor Rick Elumbaugh acknowledged the community’s generosity and attempts to address homelessness. Referencing past initiatives, he highlighted the challenges faced in garnering community support for such endeavors, noting resistance from residents to having homeless shelters in their neighborhoods. 

“I appreciate the passion this community has,” Elumbaugh said. “We are a giving community. We have so many people who step up. There have been several attempts that haven’t stopped to meet this need, but no one wanted it in their community.”

Council member Brittany Bennett emphasized the urgency of addressing the issue, noting it was a hard subject to discuss. 

“I have had multiple conversations with people on opposite sides of this situation. This is in my backyard. I don’t want this to come across as not compassionate,” Bennett said. “This is a safety problem in our community.”

Bennett presented photos depicting conditions near the new boat launch area at Poke Bayou. The images included a syringe, graphic graffiti, and trash. She stressed the need for a comprehensive solution but acknowledged the absence of a clear answer.

Council member Fred Krug noted he has engaged with the homeless population.

“I asked, ‘What do you people really want?’ ‘We want you to build us something with meals and showers,’” Krug said. “As far as the trash, it was ridiculous. Somebody said to put a dumpster down there. I feel like by doing that, we’re saying, ‘You can stay there — just throw your stuff away.’ I don’t have a solution, but it’s not what’s going on right now. Our kids used to camp out there at night, but they can’t do that now. We have to come up with something. We need some help on this.” 

Bennett called for community input and innovative ideas to address the homelessness problem, acknowledging that collective efforts are essential to finding a sustainable solution. 

The proposed ordinance will have a second reading at the next meeting on Nov. 28, where the council will further deliberate on potential measures.

In other council business, members welcomed Landon Reeves, who is replacing outgoing council member Tommy Bryant.

Main Street Batesville’s Maggie Tipton provided an update on the organization’s activities in 2023. The report highlighted successful collaborations, community engagement, and volunteer efforts through the year, emphasizing a 39.5% increase in outreach to areas beyond the county. Tipton also presented a formal budget request, seeking increased funding to support community and Main Street initiatives. 

Independence County Senior Citizens Program Director Selina Wallis updated council members on the program’s senior center expansion. The current center has outgrown its capacity, prompting the initiative to build a more spacious facility. While the new building, funded by American Rescue Funds, is secured, the program is now seeking community support to furnish the center. Program officials said the current furniture, in use for about 30 years, has seen its share of wear and tear. 

“If we are going to have a nice space for seniors, we want to provide a welcoming, warm, and inviting atmosphere with new furniture for them to use,” said Bob Carius, a member of the campaign committee to purchase the furnishings, who appeared before the council with Wallis.

Some of the services offered by the Independence County Senior Citizens Program include congregate meals, transportation for shopping and doctor appointments, socialization activities, and the delivery of meals to those who are homebound.

Wallis said the new center, which will be located at 950 Elm St., aims to offer more events and socialization opportunities for the elderly.

“We’ve witnessed the (positive) impact of socialization on their health, and we’re proud of how our community is coming together to provide for our seniors,” said Wallis.

The meeting concluded with Mayor Elumbaugh recommending a retention incentive for city employees in 2023, acknowledging their valuable contributions. The motion passed, providing a $1,500 incentive to employees.

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