Needle exchange ordinance delayed

Needle exchange ordinance delayed
May 11
05:55 2017



Potential city ordinances for needle and syringe exchanges were held in committee again as elected officials and neighbors around Green Street United Methodist Church discuss ways to regulate the new service there.

The public safety committee was considering several ordinances, including zoning exchanges out of residential areas or having a special use district for them approved by the City Council. City Council Member John Larson said exchanges needed to be regulated in response to current neighbor concerns and future exchanges that may open, now that they’re legal in North Carolina. Last month, supporters of the exchange passionately defended it and Colin Miller, who runs it, said he wanted no city regulation.

Monday’s public safety meeting seemed to be slowly moving toward a consensus from both sides. Larson said he recognized the financial burden the ordinances would put on volunteer run exchanges. He said perhaps special use zoning, which doesn’t require a site plan that can cost thousands of dollars, would be better, though it would still have a zoning fee that starts at $1,000. Larson said that perhaps there were other types of regulations they could look at.

City Council Member Jeff MacIntosh said that zoning wasn’t the proper tool for the situation since it won’t address behavior at a site, which is where problems might arise. All City Council members agreed that the exchanges do important work in disease prevention, distributing the overdose prevention drug naloxone and encouraging addicts to seek rehabilitation. Forsyth County Emergency Medical Services is responding to multiple opioid overdoses daily.

“The merits of the program are irrefutable,” said Larson.

Miller was also more open to finding ways to have more oversight of exchanges without putting a burden on those who want to open one.

“There are some other solutions that might work just as well as far as having some oversight without restricting zoning on syringe exchanges,” said Miller.

Miller said as a neighborhood resident and member of the church, he thought Green Street was a natural fit for the exchange. The church already has a multitude of services for those in need. It wasn’t his intention to create friction in the neighborhood.

Several residents acknowledged the importance of needle exchanges, but had concerns about having one in their neighborhood and felt they should be regulated by the city.

Kate McFarland, who lives next to the church, said that she didn’t feel the exchange had been engaging the neighborhood enough to earn her trust. She said it has started to participate in neighborhood meetings, but wasn’t sure if that will continue.

“I feel that it is extremely important if you’re going to allow needle exchanges to operate when they’re literally within feet of a person’s house, that they need to be held responsible and they have to be forced, if necessary, into a relationship with the community,” she said.

She said she’d like to see exchanges restricted from residential areas but, if they are going to operate in neighborhoods, they should be required to communicate with residents there.

Miller said that there will be a community meeting in the coming weeks to let him and other neighborhood residents come up with a proposal amenable to all sides.

Also during this week’s city committee meetings, the results of the public comment sessions on raising Trans-Aid rates was presented to the council. Most attendees opposed raising the rate to $1 and eliminating the Medicaid exemption that lets most passengers ride for free. These Trans-Aid changes will be considered in the budget that’ll go into effect on July 1.

The finance committee also sent an item to the full council for a vote on Monday on if the city will loan $200,000 to the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem (HAWS) to demolish the former Brown Elementary School, which was gutted by a fire last year, to make way for 120 units of multi-family rental housing for the elderly. City Council members expressed concern about what would happen if HAWS couldn’t pay back the loan, and Vivian Burke was the sole member of the committee who abstained during the vote.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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