They already have an ordinance on the books that addresses panhandlers, and another one that addresses trespassing.
But, the Pasco County Commission still hasn’t found an effective way to put a stop to panhandling.
“We have a panhandling ordinance in place. We write a lot of tickets to all of the people that are doing the panhandling. One gentleman has 240 tickets,” Commissioner Jack Mariano said during the commission’s Oct. 9 board meeting.
Pasco County sheriff’s deputies don’t know what else to do, he said.
“They don’t want to take them to jail to fill up the jail. What do you do next?” the commissioner said.
Mariano has an idea.
He wants to try to dissuade people from giving donations to panhandlers.
He wants the county to send a message that “we don’t want you donating to the panhandlers.”
He thinks that would help put a stop to the panhandling problem.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey agrees that there’s a problem. She told her colleagues that she was aware of a panhandler working on one side of a turn-lane on Starkey Boulevard who was cited, so he simply moved to the other side of the road.
“Apparently, it’s site specific when you cite them. I think we have to readdress that ordinance,” Starkey said. She thinks the ordinance should address panhandling that happens anywhere in the county.
Senior Assistant County Attorney Kristi Sims explained the actions the board has taken to date.
“So, when the board enacted its ordinance concerning road solicitation, or panhandling — that is a civil violation and yes, tickets were written,” Sims said. “People would turn the tickets over and use them as another sign, on the backs of their tickets. It was not being paid. It wasn’t particularly effective with some of the panhandlers in the county.
“If you’ll recall, when it started, it (panhandling) was ubiquitous — on almost every corner and growing.
“There was certainly a hard-core population of people who are violating the road solicitation ordinance, so this board went further and implemented a trespass ordinance that allows the sheriff to trespass them off of public property, intersections and yes, that is site specific,” the attorney said.
If that’s not working, Sims suggested two options. One would be to work harder on the trespass option, or two, violation of the ordinance is theoretically punishable by up to 60 days in jail.
“However, we would need to fund and pay for representation for indigent defendants to do that,” she said.
“The only thing left is jail,” Sims said. “I can’t make a certain segment of panhandlers care that they’ve received a citation.”
Mariano thinks the county should warn people who are giving to panhandlers that they should stop doing so.
“I think when someone gets a couple of warnings, they’re going to stop. When the panhandlers see that these people are being warned not to donate, I think we can deter it that way.
“Because obviously, what we’re doing is not working. We need some type of change. I think this is something, that this would be a very positive move to try to diminish what’s happening out there,” Mariano said.
Commission Chairman Mike Wells Jr., said he favors taking action to reduce panhandling because he worries about the safety of people who are seeking donations.
Mariano suggested having a workshop to discuss updating the ordinance, and commissioners asked County Administrator Dan Biles to put together a list of the county’s priorities so they can discuss during their next meeting when they might want to set up that workshop.
Biles agreed to bring back that list.
Published October 17, 2018