After a summer-long brainstorming session prompted by controversy, Holly Springs leaders finally decided how they want to punish people who trespass at the town’s parks.
The Holly Springs Town Council on Tuesday unanimously approved new rules that aim to go easier on juveniles who trespass but don’t vandalize town property.
While the old rules allowed the town to impose a year-long parks ban on first-time trespassers and charge them criminally, the new rules don’t call for criminal charges until a fourth trespassing offense.
Under the new rules, the town will charge first-time offenders a $50 citation and ban them from town park facilities for 30 days.
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Second-time offenders will be fined $100 and be banned for 60 days. The fee jumps to $200 for third-time offenders, who will also face a one-year ban.
“I truly believe this has been one of the best alternatives we could have come up with in a tricky situation,” Mayor Dick Sears said.
The new rules come after weeks of debate between council members who want to protect the recently installed turf fields at Womble Park and residents who wanted the town to relax the punishment for kids who trespass but mean no harm.
It all started in June after a group of five kids jumped over a locked fence at Womble Park at 4:30 p.m. on a Monday. Despite the good weather and lack of field renters, the fields were closed. A police officer informed the kids of the town’s year-long ban for trespassers and sent them home.
Leaders of the parks and recreation department didn’t press charges, opting instead to seek direction from the Town Council.
The following council meeting was tense. Some council members pointedly condemned the kids’ actions. And after the kids apologized from a podium at the front of the room, residents lambasted the town on a number of fronts.
They complained that the town’s rules were too strict, that they weren’t notified when their children were caught and that the fields weren’t freely open to the public as much as they should be.
Council members assured parents that the town would inform them in the future if their child is caught breaking the rules. The parks and recreation department later doubled the amount of time Womble’s turf fields are open to about 30 hours per week.
In the meantime, council members grappled with suggestions for punishments that they hoped would be strong enough to deter would-be trespassers but light enough to appease residents.
Council members considered fines ranging from $25 to $100 for first-time offenders.
They also considered requiring offenders to apologize before a panel of town officials or perform community service.
Council members scrapped the panel idea because they didn’t want to waste the town staff’s time.
More recently, council members abandoned their quest to require community service because they weren’t sure if they had the authority to impose it.
“Community service is usually something handled by the courts, and we didn’t want to get into that,” Councilman Tim Sack said.
Kathy Toma, a resident who was once critical of the town, praised the council for passing new rules that are more fair to trespassers.
Toma and Sack agreed that the greater achievements were opening Womble Park more frequently and improving the line of communication between residents and Town Hall.
“I’m really happy with what happened,” Toma said. “I’m proud of them.”