HOLLY SPRINGS — The town may soon reduce its punishment for those caught trespassing at parks.
Under current rules, anyone caught trespassing at a town park is banned from all town parks for a year.
At its meeting on Tuesday, the Holly Springs Town Council is expected to consider scrapping the ban for trespassers who don’t vandalize – or appear intent on vandalizing – town property.
Proposed rules would allow police officers to “charge the person with a town citation instead of a criminal offense in the event that there is no evidence that the person was there to do damage.”
Trespassing citations would carry a $25 fine for first-time violators, $50 for a second violation and $75 for a third violation. The town would consider charging third-time violators with a criminal offense.
Town officials have said they’re more worried about vandals than trespassers at town parks.
“The idea behind this is to not make it punitive if nothing’s damaged,” Mayor Dick Sears said.
Vandals have damaged town property at least 20 times in the last year, according to Len Bradley, the town’s parks and recreation director.
Holly Springs wants to protect its property as much as possible – especially since the town recently spent $3 million to renovate Womble Park.
Despite the intent of the ban, it still came under scrutiny last month after the town caught five kids playing soccer at the new turf field at Womble Park when it was closed.
The town didn’t ban the kids, who apologized at a Town Council meeting last month. But parents lambasted the punishment on the books as being too rigid.
Kathy Toma, whose son was caught trespassing, said she thinks the fine structure is “much more fair” than a ban. She hopes the town will follow up on its promise to look at what she sees as the bigger issue: limited free play time at Womble Park.
The town is still looking into its options, Sears said.
The proposed trespassing punishment is the town staff’s second attempt at amending the punishment for trespassers.
The Town Council didn’t support changes proposed last month that included a one-month ban for first-time trespassers and would have required offenders to go before a panel of employees and police officers.
Councilman Hank Dickson said the council hasn’t had enough time to form an opinion on the newest proposal, which town staff drafted this week.
Dickson said he’s still pondering if a cash fine is harsh enough to deter trespassers who might damage the park – willingly or unwillingly.
“A parent could just give them the money (to pay a trespassing fine) and there’d be no consequence,” Dickson said. “If you’re someone who really wants to use the parks, a ban would be devastating.”
Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht