On Tuesday, September 23, a joint meeting of the City of Milford Community Affairs and Parks & Recreation Committees was held to discuss the best ways to address the needs of the community related to Milford’s city parks. Committee members discussed a smoking ban in city parks as well as the best way to designate parkland throughout the city.
The first item on the agenda was a proposed smoking ban that was presented by City Councilman Skip Pikus at a recent city council meeting. Councilman Pikus said that several constituents had contacted him about banning smoking in city parks as small children and families used the park quite often. City Council voted to place the suggestion with the Community Affairs Committee.
“I felt that we should combine this meeting with both Community Affairs and Parks and Recreation because, although parks fall under the Parks and Recreation umbrella, the parks belong to and are used by the community,” said Mayor Bryan Shupe. “I think if we make a decision like this, we need to have input from both committees.”
Councilman Owen Brooks said he was in full support of the smoking ban, but felt that there were other things happening in city parks that needed to be addressed, including a ban on alcohol and people sleeping in the parks.
“We need a curfew in those parks,” Councilman Brooks said. “We need to have some control over what is there. There is no reason why people are allowed to sleep on park benches. We’ve had reports of people urinating in the park. I have had people tell me that those who are sleeping in the park congregate around people using the area and then take over benches and such as soon as they are empty.” Mayor Shupe pointed out that there was an ordinance on the books that all parks were open from dawn to dusk each day and that there should be no people sleeping there based on that ordinance.
The question came up regarding enforcement of the policies that were already in place, including park hours and the ban on alcohol in city parks.
“How are we enforcing these ordinances?” Councilman Christopher Mergner asked. “If I go there with a case of beer and proceed to drink it while sitting on a bench, what happens to me? I think we need to get the Chief of Police involved in this discussion as well.” Councilman Mergner also said that the city needed to do a better job of identifying what areas of the city are parks as he was not aware until he went to the city website that the park where he was taking his children to play was actually owned by the city.
Councilman Dirk Gleysteen said that any ordinances need to be posted clearly in all parks, stating that he thought there used to be signs in the parks telling patrons what was not permitted. Councilman James Starling said that the committee and council should not only develop a set of rules, but stipulate what the penalty would be for violating those rules.
“What we need is a ticket process that someone who violates a rule would have to take to court,” said City Manager Richard Carmean. “We have warning tickets we give now for traffic violations that are kept on file for a year, but it is easier to track those than it would be these types of tickets that could be issued to transients.” Mr. Carmean suggested that a violation include a fine from the first offense rather than a warning.
Mr. Carmean explained that the smoking ordinance was less about second-hand smoke than it was about the litter left behind by smokers. He said that smokers have a tendency to throw the butts on the ground when they finish smoking, causing extra work for park staff when they try to clean up the park. Councilman Mergner also said that a cigarette butt that was not completely extinguished could present a fire hazard when thrown into a trash can or dropped on the ground.
“My question is, how do we enforce loitering in a park? Isn’t that exactly what a park is designed for – people to relax and spend the day?” Councilman Glysteen said.
Mr. Carmean said there was nothing wrong with people sitting in the park, even all day, but sometimes there were problems. Several residents of Milford have file complaints with the City about Bicentennial Park, which is located next pnthe Mispillion River and is in close proximity to a package store. The park has become a gathering place for individuals who frequent the package store and spend the day in the park drinking alcohol, smoking, and, in some cases, sleeping on park benches.
Joe Palermo, a citizen who attended the meeting said that vendors who have booths at the Farmers’ Market constantly complain about transients drinking alcohol, leaving trash and urinating in the area. “People are complaining about these guys drinking alcohol in the park and on the street,” said Councilman James Starling. “But we are constantly voting for organizations allowing them to serve alcohol in the street. How can we tell one group yes and another group no?” Councilman Mergner said that he understood those permits to be limited to certain hours and certain dates, so he did not see where that was conflict. However, he had concerns and thought that the police could do a better job of enforcing the rules in the parks and throughout the town.
The committee members decided to place the smoking ban with the Police Committee and to request a Workshop be scheduled at an upcoming City Council Meeting to discuss all park ordinances. Mr. Carmean said that he would have City Clerk Terri Hudson contact other municipalities to see what types of ordinances they had and how they enforced them to present at the workshop.
The next topic discussed was the designation of parkland in the city, a topic that was briefly touched on by Councilman Mergner when he said he was unaware that his children were playing in a city park. “The parks are just not identified properly in the city,” Councilman Mergner said. “I constantly hear residents say there are no parks here, yet when I look at the website we have many of them.” City parks include Banneker Park, Bicentennial Park, Marshall’s Pond, Marvel Square and Memorial Park. Goat Island recently opened to the public and the city will soon offer a dog park open to the public.
Councilman Mergner said that he was unaware the Banneker basketball courts were actually a city owned park, believing that the courts were owned by the school district. Councilman Starling pointed out that because the basketball courts were so close to the school, park users had difficulty finding places to park because the school blocked entrances to the parking areas when classes were not in session. Councilman Mergner said that he felt as if the no smoking policy may have brought to light many other problems in the town’s parks.
“I think that by creating awareness and having more people in the park, walking their dog, spending family time, some of the behaviors we want to eliminate will begin to decline,” Mayor Shupe said. Mr. Carmean said that the City would like to add picnic tables and small charcoal grills along the river for families to use, but the risk of vandalism was too great at the present time. Mayor Shupe asked what was needed in the parks to get families to use them. Councilman Mergner, who has young children, said that there needed to be something to do, a place for children to learn, a place to ride a bike or to exercise.
“One thing I would like for the city to consider is one of those fountain type activities that kids can run through,” said Mr. Carmean. “We could place something like that in the area where we are removing the water treatment facility.” Councilman Mergner said that movie nights in the park were another way to get people to enjoy the outdoor areas in Milford, and Mayor Shupe suggested partnering with organizations, such as Communities and Schools and Downtown Milford, Inc., for special events. Other suggestions were volleyball courts, walking trails, miniature golf and playground equipment.
Councilman Mergner said that although the Can-Do Playground was a wonderful addition to the town, he would like to see that concept brought into the downtown area as well. “I would love to see a large playground like that downtown,” he said. “Can-Do is wonderful but I have to drive my kids out there. If there was something downtown, we could walk to the playground, then walk somewhere for lunch or go shopping.” Mayor Shupe added that he would like to see each park in Milford offer something unique from the other parks in town so that all of them were utilized more.
Councilman Mergner suggested better advertising of the parks in Milford, such as signs on Route 1 and Route 113 indicating that there was a dog park or a walking trail on Goat Island. He also suggested a monthly newsletter to be sent to residents that highlighted the parks and activities coming up. All commissioners agreed that the important thing was getting information out the public about what Milford parks have to offer.
“We want citizens to enjoy our parks with their families and feel safe,” Mayor Shupe said. “That must be our number one priority.”