Drug issues discussed at Akron Council meeting

By on August 30, 2017

Akron Police Chief Tom Zell and Mayor John McBeth both spoke at length about the town’s drug issues at August’s regular borough council meeting.

McBeth, in his monthly report to council, first thanked everybody who helped make a success of the recent playground reunion at Broad Street park. He estimated the attendees, who drifted in and out, numbered at least 200, including two of whom, he believed, had been drawn back home from out of state to attend the reunion.

He then read statistics from the Lancaster County Drug Task Force about the group’s second quarter efforts. The report listed 23 arrests countywide, and 67 new cases initiated. The task force confiscated vehicles, jewelry, electronics, 58 grams of heroin, 13 grams of fentanyl, 67 grams of cocaine powder, 153 grams of crack cocaine “…and the list goes on and on.” He said the task force has ongoing investigations in 17 county municipalities, one of which is Akron

McBeth said the mayors, who meet regularly, launched an anti-drug initiative which, they hoped, would lead to a larger effort in which the mayors would play a supporting role. That effort has led to the formation of the Lancaster County Joining Forces Coalition, which includes as members the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the district attorney’s office, the mayors and half-a-dozen other groups.

The drug discussion was sparked in part by an article in Sunday’s LNP about Ephrata Mayor Ralph Mowen and his 20-year battle with drug dealers, drug users and even citizens who thought he was over-reacting. Mowen’s naysayers are paying closer attention to his message, and the message is that the drug problem is getting worse.

Zell told council, “We do have quite a problem in Akron with heroin, and we’re starting to see more and more meth.”

He said Akron officers are aggressive with traffic stops, and said a broken headlight a few nights prior had led to an arrest for possession of meth and heroin. And over the weekend, there were two overdoses in the borough, one at Roland Park and one on South Ninth Street. Both were revived with Narcan. He added he had scheduled a run to the district attorney’s office in Lancaster to replace the borough’s Narcan supply.

“I’ve had to run to the DA’s office four or five times this year to resupply with Narcan,” he said. “I don’t know what the solution is.”

Zell did express frustration at the fact that his officers cannot arrest users simply for possessing drugs and drug paraphernalia.

“Right now, we can go into a house, see the drugs, see the paraphernalia, and we can’t do a thing about it, other than confiscate it. We can’t arrest anybody. I think it’s ridiculous but that’s the way it is,” he said. “If we could prosecute these people, get them into an accelerated rehabilitation program where, if they successfully compete it, they have their charges dropped, then I think we could make some progress.”

Zell expressed hope the state legislature would enact a law that would allow police to arrest drug users. And if the legislature doesn’t act “…I think we’ll have the problem for a long time.”

Listening to these comments from his seat at the council table was Keith Landis, who had been sworn in just minutes after the meeting began. Landis has been a borough resident since 2015, and manager of the Akron Turkey Hill for the past year. He also does some independent business consulting, and told council this was his first foray into public service. He fills the seat vacated with the resignation of Tammy Ruth.

Zell also talked to council about the obstacle the borough’s insurance company had placed before one of his officers who wanted to use the borough hall basement for his crossfit training program. The insurer, citing possible worker’s compensation claims if the officer was injured, said they would not accept the risk.

Councilman Tom Murray Sr. brought up the dangers of working out alone, and said he was concerned also about the borough’s liability exposure in the event of an accident. Landis suggested the police, in their negotiations for a new contract, request the borough pay for a Rec membership as a way to encourage the officers to stay in shape.

There was general agreement that that approach could get the officers what they wanted while avoiding insurance issues.

Borough Manager Sue Davidson reported she had been working with the streets committee on a repaving timetable for three borough streets. The plan calls for replacing storm boxes on Walnut Street in 2018, and repaving in 2019. Walnut Street residents will be required to install sidewalks in conjunction with the repaving.

Front Street is scheduled for repaving in 2020, and Edgehill Drive in 2021.

A representative of the Akron Mennonite Church attended to discuss the possibility of holding a 5K race on borough streets, beginning at the church on Diamond Street and winding through Dawn Avenue, Main Street, Roland Park and Eleventh Street before returning to the church. Zell said the logistics of keeping runners safe in moving traffic would be a serious challenge. The representative said he would discuss other possibilities with his committee, including an option that would put the race into a loop that would start at Farmersville Road and go mostly through West Earl Township.

Residents Michael and Robin Hodgson paid their second visit to council seeking its support for a resolution that would put voting district layout into the hands of an independent commission. They explained that an independent commission would eliminate the gerrymandering that they feel plagues the electoral process. Council members agreed with that feeling, but declined endorsing their resolution. They felt it would open the door to other groups with other worthy resolutions. They suggested to the Hodgsons that letters from constituents was a more suitable avenue for requesting change.

In other action, council voted to:

  • Donate $15,000 to the Akron Volunteer Fire Company. $30,000 was included in the 2017 budget for the firemen. $15,000 had been donated earlier in the year.
  • Donate $10,000 to the Ephrata Public Library. $20,000 was included in the 2017 budget for the library. $10,000 was donated earlier in the year.
  • Begin a reserve fund for the eventual purchase of a new engine by the fire company. $12,500 was moved to that reserve.

Dick Wanner is a reporter for The Ephrata Review. He can be reached at rwanner.eph@lnpnews.com.

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