published Thursday, March 5th, 2009

East Ridge set to ban panhandling


by Elizabeth Ryan

Panhandling is not good for business or good for East Ridge, city officials said, and a proposed law soon may put an end to it.

After a rash of complaints from citizens and business people, the City Council is considering an ordinance to prohibit panhandling near Interstate 75, the Missionary Ridge Tunnel, schools and public buildings.

The new law, passed on a first reading in February, would allow the police department to ask people to stop what they’re doing and cite them to court for a possible fine.

“What we wanted to do is not so much penalize people — if they’re out there panhandling, then obviously they can’t pay a fine — just to have an ordinance where we can get them to move,” Mayor Mike Steele said.

Similar to a Chattanooga city code preventing people from asking for money in the downtown tourist district, the East Ridge ordinance would not prevent people from passively sitting with signs or playing the guitar.

April Ratledge, manager of the Mapco Express near Exit 1 on I-75, said she and her employees have stemmed panhandling on their property by constant enforcement.

“One of us will go out and say, ‘I’m sorry, but you can’t be doing that ... It runs customers off,’” she said.

Businesses on the other side of Ringgold Road from the Mapco also have tried to discourage panhandling.

Terri Harris, owner of Sugar Plum Antiques and Treasures gallery off Mack Smith Road, said a man used to sit in her parking lot and approach customers as they pulled up. The other day, she said, someone approached her on a bicycle, asking for money in return for picking up the trash. She said she refused him to prevent him from coming back.

“I think it (a panhandling ordinance) would stop a lot of it if they thought that there was some kind of (repercussion),” she said.

Mr. Steele said the ordinance likely will pass, but he said the council needs to balance business interests against the needs of those who are struggling financially.

“It’s so easy for government to say ‘no’ without giving any answer to the need,” he said. “We’re going to find ways that we can help (those who need it).”

The council will consider the panhandling ordinance for a final reading on March 12.

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