WATERVILLE — Betty Hovey loves where she lives, on Carey Lane in the South End area of the city.
She even likes the college students who live nearby, although she admits they can be noisy.
But what she doesn’t like, and won’t tolerate, are drug users and drug dealers — especially because she has three children and wants them to live in a safe neighborhood.
Hovey, 39, says she’s not afraid to tell people using or selling drugs to cease and desist.
“I run my mouth,” Hovey said. “I’m the first one to say âThat is unacceptable.'”
Hovey was speaking Monday night to about 10 people in a breakout group formed as part of a community forum at the Muskie Center. The forum was hosted by the South End Neighborhood Association, which invited people from all over the city to express their concerns about issues facing the city, including crime, safety, housing, transportation, youth activities and parks and trails.
Bill Najpauer, volunteer forum coordinator, asked people to break into groups representing those topics. Najpauer coordinated the first such meeting 13 years ago, which evolved into the South End Neighborhood Association.
“It’s your opportunity to raise issues, to raise questions and come up with ideas,” Najpauer said. “And hopefully become passionate about something so you can volunteer. Get involved. It’s your neighborhood. Raise issues. Brainstorm some issues.”
He stipulated that participants follow a simple rule.
“If you wish to complain, you’ve got 10 seconds. If you have a solution, you can have as much time as you want.”
Hovey headed straight for the crime and safety group, facilitated by South End Neighborhood Association member Heather Merrow and attended by police Chief Joseph Massey, state Rep. Thomas R.W. Longstaff, D-Waterville, Mayor Karen Heck and other city residents.
Hovey started the discussion by asking if Waterville has a noise ordinance and whether people are required to quiet down at a certain time at night.
Massey said the city has a noise ordinance that deals with construction and loud trucks. In other words, he said, one can not start operating a bulldozer or excavator at 4 a.m.. The state has laws relating to disorderly conduct, however, he said, and those laws include rules about “unreasonable noise.” Violations are determined based on a variety of factors, including time of year, time of day, place of noise and other things, he said. If someone complains to the police department about noise, an officer will be a facilitator and try to help, he said.
Hovey said her street is a high drug use area and users are very visible.
“We have junkies. We have needle users,” she said. “That’s disgusting. It has to stop. My solution was I told. I’d had enough.”
Merrow advised Hovey to get license plate numbers and makes of vehicles, and tell police how long they have been on the street.
Massey said that while people may remain anonymous when they report crimes, they should know that police are better able to fix the problem if they give their names. Police welcome calls from people wanting to be anonymous, but that minimizes what police can do, he said.
Merrow said when people speak up, trouble makers are more likely to move out of the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Heck asked if there was a difference in the crime problem in the South End when the city had a designated South End police officer who had an office in the South End and worked full time there.
Merrow said there was a difference, and that officer held Saturday morning hours and one could visit him every day in his office, housed at Kennebec Valley Community Action Program on Water Street.
“You didn’t have the drug deals at the KVCAP parking lot,” Hovey chimed in.
Massey said the first South End police officer was Bill Bonney, who now is a sergeant.
The position was in place from 2003 to 2009 but with budget and position cuts, it is no longer full time. Now, Officer Alan Main works part time in the schools and part time in the South End.
“We’d like to bring that back but I just can’t, under the existing budget,” Massey said of the South End officer position.
Heck said the people can help to bring the South End officer position back by attending city council meetings, speaking to all city councilors and voicing their concerns.
“It’s something that every year, I recommend we do,” she said.
Merrow said that when the South End had a full time officer dedicated to that area of the city, crime was down. Massey said having such an officer helps residents to be more involved and engaged.
“That’s where we really make an impact — when the police and the community come together,” he said.
Heck said one could argue that the police officer position is not just a South End issue, but a community issue when there are drugs in the city.
“It’s not seen as, Oh, this is a specific thing for the South End, but it’s something that impacts the whole city,” she said.
Neighborhood Association Co-Chairman Jackie Dupont noted that a lot of accomplishments have occurred in the South End in the last 13 years.
They included not only the South End police officer, but also grant procurement for improvements, housing rehabilitation projects, demolition of distressed properties, a national night out event held yearly for the neighborhood, park improvements, institution of the South End Teen Center and South End Learning Center, development of a strategic plan, neighborhood bike swaps, neighborhood cleanups and Museum in the Streets.
Najpauer said what the Neighborhood Association has done is amazing.
“I think it’s just absolutely marvelous,” he said.
The group, he said, has helped reshape the politics in the city.
“And the people in this neighborhood did it,” he said. “People talk about working from the ground up; that’s just what the South End did.”