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Discarded needles are cause for concern among Blairsville residents

| Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 8:58 p.m.

Residents fed up with seeing their children dodge among used drug paraphernalia littering some Blairsville streets brought their concerns to borough council Tuesday, prompting a movement to reactivate the town's dormant Neighborhood Crime Watch committee.

Connie Constantino told council at its monthly meeting that she adopted the street where she lives, East Burrell, agreeing to pick up litter there under a voluntary program organized by the Blairsville Community Development Authority. But she said she's become alarmed by the type of litter she's encountered — used syringes.

She said she's concerned about her children getting pricked by the needles when they walk in the area and is ready to take action.

“If there's a Crime Watch committee, I'll be on it,” she said. “I need to do something about it.”

She noted she already took action on her own by placing notes on front doors all along the street, alerting other residents to the presence of the hazardous litter.

Neighbor Jim Garvin said he and his son, Luke, also got involved. To help warn others away, he said they marked locations where they found discarded needles with small orange flags that often are used to indicate the location of underground utility lines.

“We're going to keep doing that,” he said. But he added, “Us putting flags down is not going to solve the problem” of drug use and trafficking in Blairsville.

The residents said they did not want to pick up the needles out of concern for their own safety and a precaution against tampering with potential criminal evidence.

Jill Gaston, officer in charge of Blairsville's police department, noted needles that have been exposed to the weather likely would not be a source for usable fingerprints, but she agreed that citizens should not handle such items when they encounter them.

“We don't want you guys to pick them up. They're not sanitary,” she said.

Instead, she said those who discover discarded needles should call 911, which will alert either borough or state police.

Garvin said he and his son witnessed an apparent drug deal on an early Friday evening and called to alert authorities, but borough police weren't on duty at the time and an officer didn't arrive to investigate until the following morning.

“I don't want those drug deals happening by my house,” he said. “We want to help out. We want to work with the borough so we're not interfering with any police investigation.”

Constantino asked what assistance she and other concerned citizens could provide, such as documenting the amount of discarded needles, in order to have the county Drug Task Force help crack down on Blairsville's drug activity.

Gaston said borough officers are scheduled to cover the town on a 24/7 basis. But, due to limited manpower, when an officer calls off, it can be difficult to find someone to fill the shift.

Later in Tuesday's meeting, council heard a report from Mayor Joe Caugherty that two part-time officers recently have left the force, and the panel agreed to advertise for new officers.

Councilman Jim Mollo urged Caugherty and Gaston to seek out candidates who will be available to work busy weekend evening shifts.

For several months, council has been searching for a new police chief, to fill a position that has been vacant for some time. Following Tuesday's meeting, council President John Bertolino said the process of interviewing applicants is continuing with at least one candidate demanding wages that are beyond the borough's means.

Gaston told Constantino and Garvin she would work with them to restart Blairsville's Crime Watch committee, with a meeting time to be announced. “We can start the Crime Watch up again,” she said. “It slowed down because the attendance was down to two or three people.”

Gaston noted that residents can help police with drug investigations by reporting suspicious activity, adding that sources of such tips will remain confidential. “If you see multiple cars coming in and out of somewhere and leaving within five minutes, come talk to us,” she said.”That can start an investigation for us.”

In other business, borough manager Tim Evans announced that Blairsville's annual holiday light-up ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. Dec. 7. Festivities will begin with lighting of the community tree near the S&T Bank ATM along East Market Street.

A Fabulous Firs display of smaller decorated trees will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 7 and 8 at the Blairsville Community Center on North Stewart Street, with $1 admission charged to those age 12 or older. A visit from Santa will occur during the Dec. 7 display.

Caugherty proclaimed free parking at all metered spaces in the borough from Dec. 10 through Jan. 2. He urged merchants to have their employees park in the rear of businesses and keep spaces along Market Street available for customers.

Dewayne Dills, reporting on behalf of the borough parking authority, suggested council consider increasing fines for overparking from the current $2 and engaging a part-time person to help police enforce meters. “I'd rather have Jill (Gaston) tracing drugs rather than policing meters,” he said. He added that the meter position would have to pay for itself through fines collected.

After some discussion, it was suggested that the matter be referred to council's police committee.

Council adopted an ordinance expanding the Blairsville Community Development Authority board from five members to seven members. Evans said the borough would accept letters from applicants for the two new seats before council's December meeting so that action can be taken at the January meeting. Council has a policy or reviewing all proposed appointments for one month before voting on them.

Meanwhile, Jon Herby was appointed to an existing seat on the BCDA board. He will serve until January 2014, filling out the remaining term of Dick Headrick, who recently resigned.

Council also granted Tom Nastase's request to resign from the zoning hearing board and return to his former seat on the borough planning commission. Nastase will continue to serve on Blairsville's codes appeal board.

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or jhimler@tribweb.com.

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