BENNINGTON -- The Select Board appeared to be leaning toward a ban on panhandling while hearing arguments for and against doing so at Monday's board meeting.
"Some person standing at the stop light exiting Walmart asking for spare change does not affect people's quality of life," said Ron Conroy, who read from a comment he had posted earlier to the Banner's Facebook page. He took issue with an article that appeared in the Banner over the weekend reporting that Town Manager Stuart Hurd said he had received complaints from tourists via the Better Bennington Corporation and the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce about panhandlers.
Board Chairman Joseph Krawczyk said the board must wait until its next meeting on Oct. 28 to vote either for or against the amendment. If approved it would not go into effect for 60 days.
"Before the drafted amendment passes I think the Select Board better be able to prove any allegations against the panhandlers they are doing this to," Conroy said, continuing to read from the post. "That answer to solve that problem doesn't make any sense to me. People who are asking for money because supposedly they don't have money, why would we fine them? And if they don't pay the fine, what are we going to do, jail them? That would cost the town taxpayers even more money. I think we should leave the panhandlers alone."
The item being considered is an amendment to an existing public ways and abatement of public nuisances ordinance. A copy of it is available at the Town Office on South Street. It places restrictions on "soliciting," which it defines. "However, this ordinance is not intended to prescribe any demand for payment for services rendered or good delivered. Nor is this ordinance or the definition of solicitation intended to include or prescribe signs or written material allowed under any other applicable Town ordinance, regulation, license or permit," reads the draft ordinance.
Hurd said it only applies to public property. Should a place like Walmart take issue with solicitors it can get a notice against trespass, which police already enforce.
Members of the board said they had witnessed a small degree of aggressive panhandling, but have had other issues with it described to them. Board member Greg Van Houten said business owners have told him about "systematic panhandling," in which individuals tell the same story about why they need money repeatedly in order to get donations. Board member Sharyn Brush said she has witnessed people partially blocking the sidewalks while asking for money via signs.
Jonah Spivak, owner of Hawkins House, 262 North St., said the amendment is a step in the right direction. A Bennington native, he said he has not experienced panhandling in town until recently. He said if the amendment passes he hopes police will direct panhandlers to the various service agencies in town.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.