City hears complaints about crime, derelict houses

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 4, 2014

SALISBURY — Several residents from the city’s West End came to Tuesday’s City Council meeting to complain that the city and Livingstone College are not doing enough to make the neighborhood safe.
Members of West End Pride, which formed two years ago, said City Council members have not kept their campaign promises to help the West End, and Livingstone owns numerous abandoned houses in the neighborhood that attract vagrants and rodents.
“We are afraid to be out at night, in fear for our lives,” Ollie Mae Carroll said.
West End Pride has approached Livingstone about fixing or demolishing 12 houses she said the college owns that are empty and boarded up. The group has had no results from the college’s administration, alumni organization or board of trustees, she said.
West End Pride also has asked for help from the city’s code enforcement department, SNAG meetings and Community Development Commission, Carroll said.
Fifteen members of West End Pride have “been harmed” by living next to one of the dilapidated, empty houses, she said. While the city focuses on rebuilding Civic Park Apartments as part of an ambitious plan to revitalize the West End, the envisioned transformation is at risk due to current dangers and threats not being addressed, Carroll said.
Blanche Sherrill, speaking on behalf of West End Pride President Shirley McLaughlin, who could not attend, said residents are afraid to walk in the neighborhood after three murders in 11 months and numerous home invasions and vehicle thefts, even from church parking lots.
While the crime rate in Salisbury fell by 8.6 percent in the past five years, serious crime in the West End jumped more than 12 percent during the same period, according to the Salisbury Police Department. Speaking to City Council in January, Chief Rory Collins outlined a new strategy to reduce crime in the West End, tripling the police presence from one officer per shift to three.
While Salisbury police are committed to the West End — the late Sgt. Mark Hunter was West End Pride’s first president — the city needs more patrols day and night in the neighborhood, Sherrill said.
Other neighborhoods like Park Avenue, Fulton Heights and West Square have more police presence and better results, she said.
West End Pride has been told the city has a shortage of police officers. If the city cannot attract new police officers, increase the salary and offer better benefits, Sherrill said.
Property values are at risk, and the West End has been stigmatized, she said.
“We hope that you will live up and honor your promises,” Sherrill said.
Almeader Holt said while West End Pride members are grateful for what the city has accomplished in the neighborhood, much more needs to be done, including dealing with rental property that “no one should be living in.”
The city recently beefed up its minimum housing standards, giving landlords 48 hours instead of 60 days to fix dangerous living conditions.
Another West End resident came to the defense of Livingstone College.
DeeDee Wright said she belongs to the West End Community Organization, which was founded more than 55 years ago, and her group has a working relationship with Livingstone. The college does not own all the houses that West End Pride is complaining about, and the community needs to understand Livingstone’s budgeting process and allocations Wright said.
“There are many reasons houses are boarded up,” she said. “When things happen, we should go directly to sources.”’
Wright said she was saddened that West End Pride “took this opportunity to besmirch Livingstone College” and President Dr. Jimmy Jenkins.
After the public comment, Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell said she and Mayor Paul Woodson recently attended a prayer vigil in the West End and did promise additional police presence. Blackwell said they also pledged that the city’s code enforcement officers would check every abandoned home in the neighborhood.
Blackwell said she would like to hear an update from city staff. Woodson said the city continues to work on housing issues in the West End.
City Manager Doug Paris said he took notes on all the comments and will follow up with McLaughlin personally to go over her concerns and hear the group’s ideas. Paris said he is excited about West End Pride and believes the group is “very beneficial.”

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.