BELLEVILLE — The city of Belleville wants a judge to fine an AIDS service organization for each day the group has operated a needle exchange program.
St. Clair County Judge Robert Haida issued a ruling April 11 that Bethany Place does not have a special use permit for such a program and the nonprofit is not in an area allowing such an activity.
An area with a light-industry zoning designation does not allow for the dispensing of medical supplies, particularly needles for intravenous use, Haida said.
Angela Barnes, executive director of Bethany Place, could not be reached for comment.
Haida did not make a ruling on whether the group at 821 W. A St. should be fined.
Belleville Assistant City Attorney Brian Flynn filed a motion April 29 to assess a fine against Bethany Place for violating the city's zoning code.
City ordinance states that anyone who violates zoning laws is guilty of a misdemeanor and, if convicted, shall be fined between $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense, $750 for the third offense, and $1,000 for the fourth offense and each offense after that.
"Each day said violation continues shall be deemed a separate and distinct offense," Flynn stated in court documents.
Flynn said Bethany Place has said they have operated the program since Jan. 1, 2010. By that calculation, the city could fine Bethany Place more than $1.2 million.
It's unclear whether the nonprofit plans to appeal Haida's ruling, apply for a use variance from the city to operate the program or stop operating the needle exchange program.
Bethany Place has 30 days to appeal the judge's April 11 order.
In court documents, Bethany Place said the city allowed the program when it granted the agency a use variance in 1998 to operate a small community residence with five beds for AIDS patients and office space.
The nonprofit believes it is unfair and prejudicial for the city to now complain the program is in violation, four years after the program commenced.
Mayor Mark Eckert said the city didn't know about the program until neighbors complained about finding used needles in their yards and police officers saw people use drugs in front of Bethany Place.
Needle exchange programs statewide dispense free needles to participants, and also provide needle disposal bins, in order to prevent the contracting and spreading of blood-transmitted diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C.
Barnes said in early 2012 the Belleville program had collected 58,134 used needles since 2009.
Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.