BERLIN – Concern over drug dealing activity at the Bay Terrace apartments on Bay St. prompted the Berlin elected officials to hold off on granting a tax abatement to that complex.
For the first time this week, the Berlin Mayor and Council considered tax abatements for local non-profits, which have been granted administratively in the past.
Worcester County State’s Attorney Joel Todd and local law enforcement agencies officially partnered this spring to get rid of open-air drug dealing in Berlin, which was particularly a problem in the Bay St. area.
According to officials, progress has been made in clearing the drug dealing from the town, but some dealers have simply been pushed inside, some to the Bay Terrace apartments.
“We have probably more inside than any of us first thought,” said Berlin Mayor Gee Williams.
The tax abatement should be held until the town is sure that the managers of Bay Terrace have done everything they can to eliminate drug dealing from those apartments, Williams said.
One individual in particular has been dealing drugs there, Williams said, and he wanted to make sure that the complex is not aiding criminal activity.
One of the conditions of approval for the low-income apartments and some of the state and federal subsidies awarded to the project was maintaining a drug-free complex.
Todd told the town council that he has been informed that the drug dealer in question has left Bay Terrace.
“Management’s actually done a great job,” said Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing. “They’ve banned four people. We’ve made a couple of arrests there.”
The criminal activity at Bay Terrace has not been committed by tenants, said Downing, but by boyfriends, fiancés or relatives of the tenants. Anyone not on the lease can be banned from the property.
“We enforce it,” Downing said. “We’ll never know the person’s there unless they [management] give us a call.”
Management identifies problem individuals and passes the names on to the Berlin police, Downing said, who then arrest the alleged criminal for trespassing.
“We get a list of individuals one day and we’re locked them up the next day,” said Downing.
The state’s attorney’s office works to get those individuals the maximum three-month jail sentence for trespassing, which gets them off the streets of Berlin.
“The police are putting pressure on them,” Todd said.
Todd meets with Berlin police every week to go over complaints and arrests, which shows where clusters of crime are occurring. The test is not whether crime is reduced today or tomorrow, Todd said, but whether crime stays down next year.
Currently, the concentration of resources on the Bay St. area has had an overall positive effect, officials say.
“You see mothers pushing strollers. You see people walking their dogs even after dark,” said Todd.
Councilwoman Lisa Hall drove through the area late one Saturday night and noticed that the street was deserted at 1:30 in the morning.
“While there has been immediate responses in getting drug dealing away from the Bay St. and Flower St. area, they’ve relocated to Henry Park,” said Williams.
“There will be crack bags,” Todd said. “You’ll see those scattered about.”
Hall asked whether Henry Park should be illuminated at night to prevent the blatant drug dealing and using.
The town’s parks are officially closed after dark, and the police patrol them for violators, Downing said.
Berlin has only 13 sworn police officers, Todd noted.
“The indoor drug dealers don’t have as much effect on the town as the outdoors,” Todd said.
Bay Terrace is overseen by a management company, but the question of who oversees the management company was harder to answer. The owner of the property, an organization called Berlin Community Housing, has become defunct, according to Gabe Purnell. The board of Berlin Community Housing has dwindled as members have died and not been replaced.
“Over the years, it has gone into the dirt,” said Purnell. “There’s no board oversight.”
The town will research Berlin’s relationship with BCH and determine a future track with the body.
As a way to begin some sort of communication, Williams proposed sending a letter to the management of Bay Terrace emphasizing how seriously the town takes the matter of drug dealing in the apartments.
“This is not something to consider a minor issue,” said Williams.
The town council decided to hold off on the tax abatement until it could be sure the situation is under control.
“You’ve got leverage now. Once you do the abatement, you’ve got nothing,” said Councilwoman Paula Lynch.