AUGUSTA — City councilors plan to meet Thursday to discuss ways to make downtown safer.

City Manager William Bridgeo said some downtown residents and businesses have expressed frustration about misbehavior in the city’s downtown and have asked what the city might be able to do about it.

Bridgeo said possibilities to be discussed could include security cameras and increased police patrols downtown.

Concerns have been expressed about reports of vandalism, panhandling and even at least one incident of someone defecating in a public place downtown.

Some of the activities merchants and others have complained about, such as loitering and panhandling, may be bothersome to some, but they aren’t illegal, Bridgeo said. The city needs to be safe while not infringing on people’s constitutional rights, he said.

“This is the beginning of a conversation about what’s legally permissible to deal with the issue,” he said. “Whether that means security cameras, enhanced police patrols, or what, I don’t know. We’ll talk about how big is the problem, who is impacted by it, and possible solutions.”

Steve Pecukonis, downtown manager and executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, said he has heard from some merchants who observe activity such as what they believe to be illegal drug transactions, panhandling and other things they fear could prevent people from coming downtown.

“I do hear feedback there is a certain amount, like there is in any service center community, of panhandling, vagrancy, things like that, which merchants tell me makes customers uncomfortable,” Pecukonis said. “It is bothersome to a number of our downtown merchants.”

While he said the problem is much smaller than what happens in large cities, it does affect “what people say and think about downtown Augusta.”

Early this year, the city had a couple of security cameras placed downtown focused on the Commercial Street area, which runs above Water Street, after downtown landlords said they’d had tenants whose cars were broken into while parked overnight in the area.

Pecukonis said video surveillance and an increased police presence could be potential solutions, as could increased programming and other legitimate use of public spaces downtown. The thinking behind that was that if there are more events and people downtown, there will be fewer opportunities for undesirable activity to go unseen.

Councilors meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

Councilors are also scheduled to:

• consider authorizing night construction by Maine Natural Gas on Civic Center Drive for paving repairs in the vicinity of the Marketplace at Augusta;

• discuss possible amendments to the Mineral Extraction Ordinance in response to residents’ concerns about blasting in a West River Road pit;

• discuss forming a Library Construction Advisory Committee to help oversee the upcoming renovation and expansion of Lithgow Public Library;

• discuss what to do about higher-than-anticipated costs on an ongoing project replacing sidewalks and making other improvements on upper Water Street. The project was first projected to cost about $275,000 but is now expected to cost about $363,000 to complete, with the additional $88,000 in costs attributable in part to the discovery of an unexpected concrete curb and gutter which has slowed the work, according to Public Works Director Lesley Jones;

• hear a request from Riverside Drive resident Brian King to make construction services a conditional use in his neighborhood, in the city’s Planned Development 2 zoning district; and

• discuss a proposed swap of land with NRF Distributors as part of the Augusta company’s planned expansion of a parking lot.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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