Solicitations on the square face new rules

Friday, June 26, 2009

Lewisburg is changing its law on how donations may be accepted from motorists on the public square.

By a unanimous vote on Tuesday, the City Council agreed to nine requirements for non-profit groups' solicitations and collections.

The Council also directed City Attorney Bill Haywood to draft the proposed ordinance as discussed by councilors so they could approve it on a second vote when they meet next month.

Public safety concerns for youngsters collecting donations on Ellington Parkway moved the practice, sometimes called roadblocks, to Lewisburg's public square after a student was struck by a vehicle.

While the injuries were not life-threatening, safety concerns have been cited again, but there's a new factor. There's evidence that roadblocks pose a threat to merchants on the square.

"You can see the motorists avoid the square" and take side roads so they won't face children asking for donations, said Jeff Ellis, proprietor of the Lewisburg Auction Gallery in The Emporium on 1st Avenue. "As a business owner, it's disheartening.

Councilor Quinn Brandon cited a safety reason.

"In the past year," Brandon said, "I have had to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting them."

Discussion reflected these limits on how, when and where various organizations may solicit contributions, or sell, for example, doughnuts.

* Only two people may be posted at every corner.

* Solicitations are limited to no more than five hours.

* Twice a year is the limit for each group collecting money on the square.

* Each group using the square must have a tax-free status authorized under section 501(c)(3) of the federal income tax law.

* Application forms at the Police Department must be completed and submitted at least 10 days before the solicitations.

* Someone with the solicitors must have a copy of the police-issued permit while donations are being solicited.

* The individual who signs the application would be the person held responsible for the solicitors.

* Permits won't be issued for times such as parades on the Fourth of July, before Christmas, during the high school's homecoming week, the recently created Cruise-Ins, October Fest, the Goats Music & More festival, and possibly other times.

* Violators will be prohibited from soliciting on the square for at least one year.

Observations during the councilors' discussion led to such controls. Amendments to the proposed ordinance are possible before the second and third votes on the new law.

Not all of the solicitations are strictly for charity, Councilor Robin Minor said. Doughnut sales support a group, and solicitations for sports team aren't for a charity.

Councilor Ronald McRady sought to limit the permits to nationally recognized groups and that led to a conclusion that the IRS designation accomplished that.

Some groups solicit three to four times a year, according to Ellis, who emphasized that business owners aren't against fundraising and that there's a concern for youngsters who step out into traffic without looking both ways.

"If they will enact what's proposed and enforce it, then it will go a long way to deal with the problem of solicitors on the square," he said. "Adding a one-year ban against those who violate the rules will help."

Police Chief Chuck Forbis suggested that if solicitors are limited to charitable groups, then a paper documenting the applicant's IRS status as a tax-exempt non-profit organization should be attached to the permit application form.

Following Minor's recommendation for a one-year ban on solicitations by groups that violate the rules, Mayor Barbara Woods turned to Haywood, saying, "Write it up."

The unanimous vote came after a quick review of the plan.