By Bryce Abshier – Contact Bryce@TheVOSM.net
A pair of Lake Lillian Circle residents are again voicing their concerns to Belleview city officials following a number of disturbing incidents at the park, particularly at night. Complaints were initially made in May of this year, which led to Belleview City Commissioners voting unanimously in favor of posting a 10:00 pm closing time for Lake Lillian Park.
However, according to the residents, little has changed at the park since the last time the City Commission visited this issue. Much like the earlier Lake Lillian Park complaints, some of the problems, as well as potential threats to public health, are being spawned by homelessness.
The details of the letter sent to city officials are unsettling. “A few months back a homeless female was allowed to remain in the pavilion overnight (after being there all day) and as she sat at a picnic table urinating on herself and literally creating a puddle on the floor not until the next day was she removed,” the letter reads. “The city then had to bleach and power wash the area as soon as she left.”
The residents also outlined many concerns stemming from people being at the park during all hours of the night. “A park monument was sprayed with graffiti, the young couple were having sex on the splash pad, we have found female underwear between the street and the dock,” the letter reads. “It is my belief that these various issues need to be brought under control because the reality is as Belleview continues to grow the issues will only become worse.”
The initial letter discussed by the Belleview City Commission in May of this year, that described similar instances of disregard for the park as well as disgusting acts, seemed to be taken very seriously by the commission. The city has invested sizable funds in a series of projects to make Lake Lillian the focal point of Belleview. A recent re-branding effort even made the lake the center of the official city seal.
When discussing the complaints at commission meetings earlier this year, Commissioner Mike Goldman offered his thoughts on the matter. “The letter we received with what is going on down at the lake, where we have apparently people openly defecating on our brand new dock. What would it cost, and how many police officers would it take to have three on duty all night long so that one is making a rotation of the lake every 45 minutes to one hour?,” said Goldman in May, 2023.
“There are multiple people that are treating the parks that we are spending so much money on like its their bathroom,” Goldman went on. “They’re there when it clearly states the parks are open from dawn to dusk, they’re out there at 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock in the morning. I would like to see us attack this head on. If it means that we need more police officers to handle that part of it, I am all for that.”
At the very next commission meeting, held on May 16 of this year, the commission voted unanimously in favor of allowing the Belleview Police Department to hire an additional police officer. Documents presented at the meeting show the city’s cost in hiring just one police officer at $168,327. This includes salary and benefit expenses, a fully outfitted patrol vehicle, police academy tuition, uniforms and equipment, as well as other smaller fees. The starting salary for the position was posted at $53,518.40 and included insurance and benefits, retirement and a take-home patrol vehicle.
Unfortunately, according to the residents, these countermeasures have done little to remedy the Lake Lillian Park problems and they feel a more aggressive approach is warranted. “I consider myself a reasonable citizen and I have the expectation that at park closing time of 10 pm the police would patrol through and remove individuals from the park – if the officers were available. This enforcement does not happen,” the letter reads.
When discussing the Lake Lillian problems at earlier commission meetings, a few other clever ideas were discussed that did not seem to gain any traction. “Maybe we can merge some type of code enforcement with a park-like ranger,” suggested Commissioner Ray Dwyer. “At some point we need to get some cameras in these locations to catch these things going on in the act and help our police department be able to run these people down,” Dwyer later added.
Of course, concerns presented by homelessness are not unique to Lake Lillian, or Belleview for that matter. The Wall Street Journal reported in August that “High housing costs and evictions pushed more people from homes. The U.S. has seen a record increase in homeless people this year (2023).” Grappling with the idea of how to ease rampant homelessness in Belleview has left many scratching their heads.
On the topic of homelessness, documents shared at a recent City of Belleview Visioning Workshop, where ideas for Belleview’s future were discussed, showed only one suggestion on how to alleviate the local homeless population. “Develop a police officer to gather all information on all the homeless in the area in an attempt to transport the homeless to family members who may want to assist the homeless they have not had contact with for some time,” the suggestion read. “Also, have that officer specifically work with property owners where the homeless are congregating along with our code enforcement officer and code enforcement personnel for Marion County.”
In earlier complaints made by the Lake Lillian Circle residents, a homeless gentleman (later identified as Richard Kurdt), made a Lake Lillian pavilion his daytime home, collecting leaves and sticks and starting fires in the grills by the pavilion. After weeks of Kurdt reportedly making “daily smoke fires”, the residents were frustrated to learn that Kurdt had already been trespassed from the park for prior incidents by the time he was finally removed.
This instance of Richard Kurdt touches on the broader issue of homelessness and the cyclical struggle it represents. This particular individual has been issued trespass warnings from numerous properties in Belleview and has 20 booking photos at Marion County Jail since 2019. This week, Kurdt again appears in the Belleview Police Report as being issued a trespass warning from the premises of St Marys Episcopal Church on October 25. He then returned to the church property on October 29 and was arrested.
If history is any indicator for Richard Kurdt, as well as others in similar predicaments, it is just a matter of time before he is back on the streets of Belleview for the cycle of trespass and eventual arrest to repeat.