The Payson town council will consider an ordinance to control panhandling at busy intersections, but such an ordinance would also limit campaign signs and political demonstrations.
The council had asked to discuss panhandling during its Jan. 5 work study session because of concerns over the dangers at busy intersections.
“There are a couple of areas…that I noticed where they are panhandling — leaving Safeway in that corner,” said Councilor Barbara Underwood, “It is a hard intersection…to have somebody there and stop and back up. That is a very dangerous corner.”
Councilor Suzy Tubbs-Avakian had a concern the panhandlers in the median at Highway 260 and 87 create a distraction that affects the ability of drivers to navigate safely that turn – especially during busy weekends.
The problem with controlling this behavior, it’s not illegal.
“It is generally allowed,” said Trever Fleetham, town management associate.
Nevertheless, he understood other towns, such as Scottsdale, have created responses to what these towns label a public safety issue.
“Scottsdale has a signage program across the city for signage regarding panhandling,” he said.
These signs tell drivers they can say no to panhandlers and instead make donations to local charities that offer services to get them off the streets.
Mayor Tom Morrissey told the council he had just gone to Scottsdale the previous weekend, but the signs didn’t seem to work. He suggested instead of giving money, give away food or hygiene items.
“People I have given this stuff have accepted warmly,” he said.
Councilor Scott Nossek then asked if any research showed a sign program such as Scottsdale’s made a difference.
Town Manager Troy Smith had personal experience with a community-wide sign program that asked drivers to send money to the United Way instead of giving it to panhandlers.
“At the end of the day, that did not change the number of people that we had panhandling,” he said.
Nor did the effort increase donations to charities that help those living on the streets, said Smith.
Vice Mayor Chris Higgins suggested the council consider controlling where to allow panhandling as the City of Tempe did through an ordinance. Tempe labeled the problem a public safety issue and so far, the state has not challenged its ordinance, said Higgins.
This caused town contract attorney Justin Pierce to caution the council any ordinance would have to walk the line between public safety and constitutional rights.
“You can’t just prohibit this outright,” he said.
Smith reminded the council that if they passed such an ordinance, it would have to restrict all activity on those corners, which includes firefighters with a boot asking for donations, people protesting or candidate signs.
“We can’t just regulate one group,” he said.
He then offered to have staff write up an ordinance for the council’s decision at their next meeting on Jan. 14 at 4:30 p.m.