Originally created 10/09/01

Crime-fighting funds get OK



AIKEN - Getting away with breaking the law in Aiken while in an automobile - whether it is parking illegally, driving too fast or driving drunk - promised to get more difficult Monday night.

Aiken City Council voted unanimously to accept a federal grant that will provide for more than $35,000 worth of crime-fighting equipment, including radar and alcohol sensing devices.

The council also voted to toughen the city's parking ordinances.

Aiken has received funds from the U.S. Department of Justice for the past several years. Recently, however, that funding has declined, because crime in Aiken has declined.

"I see that as a good problem," Aiken City Manager Roger LeDuc said.

Aiken will receive $32,267 this year, compared with $33,400 last year. To accept the money, the city must provide a 10 percent match. Mr. LeDuc said matching money is allocated in this year's budget.

The Aiken Department of Public Safety intends to purchase two alcohol sensing flashlights at $650 each, a $3,600 laser radar gun, a $4,000 stealth radar gun and other items. About $12,500 will go toward additional equipment for the department's patrol division.

The council members also were asked to amend the parking ordinance because the "city judge has had a hard time making an owner pay for an illegally parked car unless (law enforcement) sees the owners actually park it," a city memo states.

The current parking ordinance prohibits owners from parking vehicles illegally within city limits but is too vague, Aiken Solicitor Richard Pearce said in a memo. Owners often say they were not driving the vehicles and therefore are not responsible for the violations.

The proposed amendment to the ordinance would clarify the matter by stating that the person to whom the vehicle is registered "shall be absolutely responsible for violations of state law or city ordinances ... unless it is shown that at the time of the violation the vehicle was stolen."

Businesses that rent vehicles would be exempt but would have to submit to Public Safety the identity of the person at fault within 15 days of the parking violation. The council passed the measure on first reading.

In a study session before the council meeting, members discussed possible cures to the city's "big box" problem - large, vacant retail stores.

Examples include the empty Lowe's building on Whiskey Road and the old Belk store on Richland Avenue. The city estimates it has 20 empty buildings of between 10,000 and 20,000 square feet each.

Officials have offered to tear down some of the buildings at the owner's expense.

The city is currently looking to other areas, including Columbia County, for ideas on how to restrict future construction of the large buildings. Possibilities include limiting where such buildings can be constructed and enforcing stricter design standards.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895.