North Belle Vernon's Graham St. Park safe — for now
By Jeremy Sellew
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 12:31 a.m.
North Belle Vernon council President Dennis Simboli on Tuesday backed away – at least for a year – from his plan to close Graham Street Park.
At a special meeting Dec. 27, Simboli informed council he was going to delay the plan.
“I honestly was looking for a roomful of people that were going to come express their opinions on this, because this is the place to do it,” Simboli said of council chambers. “But I have decided to pull the idea off the table.”
Simboli said three things are needed to make the park special again.
“First, we have the cameras. We have people that donated money to get them, so let's get them installed,” Simboli said of security cameras obtained with private dollars. “Hopefully that will work to curb the vandalism that's going on.
“Second, we have to have the public's participation. If they see something, they have to call 911.
“And, third, the police department ... The police have to be doing their job. I think it will work, but we have to have all three of those things.”
Simboli said his former plan – to sell the park to a private developer and build another park elsewhere – was designed to ease debt.
“I figured we'd have a lot more people here tonight to discuss this,” he said.
Council Vice President Craig Ambrose and Councilwoman Betty Shine-Hill said many people originally planned to attend the Tuesday meeting.
They apparently stayed home after Simboli told his council colleagues he would end his quest to close the park.
“It spread like wildfire after the remarks at the last meeting,” Ambrose told Simboli. “People were told, and I guess they thought they didn't need to come now.”
During his report, Mayor Ed Lyons was adamant police are doing their jobs, in general and when it comes to the park.
“A lot is being done,” Lyons told council. “I'd serve in a foxhole with any one of our officers anytime. If it was an easy job, everyone could do it.
“All I can say is that if anyone sees something going on, call 911. I think the 911 system is the best thing that Westmoreland County has ever done.”
Lyons said the department responded to 1,591 incidents in 2012 and received 2,060 calls from 911 dispatchers.
Shine-Hill asked if callers can remain anonymous when reporting possible crimes.
“Absolutely,” Lyons replied and deferred the question to police Officer Ron VanScyoc.
“True anonymity is dependent on the police getting enough information on their own,” VanScyoc said. “If not, then we can't proceed without that anonymous person.”
Lyons urged residents to call, no matter where they see criminal activity.
“Pick up the phone and call 911,” Lyons said.
A resident and a former resident talked about the park.
“If you decide to eliminate the park, I would ask that you don't sell the land,” resident Mark Frederick said. “Lease it, so the money comes back to the borough.”
Real estate professional Bonnie Halinka said the odds of a restaurant coming to the Graham Street Park site are slim.
“I have no answers for you on the problems at the park,” Halinka said. “As a realtor, though, a commercial enterprise would rather go to other areas where there is more traffic.
“I love this town. I sell properties here, because I want people to stay here. Any of those business owners on Broad Avenue can tell you the habits of drug dealers and users.
“Try the cameras, get the state attorney general's office involved and get those people out of the town.”
Lyons defended some people who congregate in the park.
“Everyone that wears a hoodie is not a gangster,” Lyons said. “Young people congregate at the park because that's where their buddies are. We had that problem years ago when teenagers hung out at Hagan's. That's where their friends go.”
Lyons said police know the identities of many of the drug-dealers.
“It's not like police can do what they do on TV and just kick in a door at this house and go in,” he said.
“The fact of the matter is that the laws aren't always on the side of those abiding by them or trying to enforce them. My biggest grievance is that I'm not satisfied with the laws.”
Lyons said North Belle Vernon is not “pure.”
“But are we having the same problems as other municipalities?” he asked. “It's prescription drugs and heroin, those are the biggest problems that are everywhere.”
In other business, council agreed to continue participation in the Mon Valley Progress Council's Intermunicipality Co-op at a rate of $913.83.
• Public Works chairman Jon Wasicek said the state Department of Environmental Protection finished filling the void that caused mine subside in the Green Street area. Wasicek said 74 truckloads of a sand-and-concrete mixture were needed to fill the 738 cubic-foot area.
• Shine-Hill said plans for the 2013 Easter Egg Hunt are being made. The date will be announced later, she said. It is expected to be held in early March.
Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2667.
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