COLUMBIA CITY — Time may soon be up for panhandlers in Columbia City, as the Common Council approved the first reading of an ordinance to end panhandling and solicitation in the business districts in Columbia City.

City officials cited two main reasons for the ordinance: safety, and individuals taking advantage of the “kindness” of the community.

“It’s very challenging for me as mayor to see our residents being taken advantage of,” said Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel. “We want to be friendly, welcoming and loving, and there are individuals on our street corners, who are not part of this community, who are taking care of the kindness and goodness of Whitley County.”

Councilwoman Jennifer Romano, who is part of the city’s ordinance committee, researched the topic extensively. She gathered reports from residents that she found to be disconcerting.

“Someone gave them loaves of bread, and they ended up in a ditch on U.S. 30,” Romano said. “If you look closely, it’s often the same people just rotating around.

“Whitley County is caring and giving, but they don’t want most of the help being offered.”

As far as public safety, panhandlers typically locate in dangerous areas, such as the intersection of Countryside Drive and State Road 9 and Frontage Road and State Road 109.

“These individuals are standing at very busy street corners,” Daniel said. “It’s a safety issue for vehicles stopping to give something or being distracted by them.”

The new ordinance, which is expected to be up for second approval at next week’s town council meeting, outlines where panhandling and solicitation will not be allowed — business districts. In addition, some punishments have been set forth.

First the panhandler would be given a warning, then a $25 fine. Each subsequent offense is $50.

“This is a starting point,” said Council President Walt Crowder. “It’s subject to change as we go. This is a great baseline.”

Also at the city council meeting:

• Officials announced a new firefighter and new police officer were selected for hire. The positions were approved, as well as a dispatcher position, by the city council in the 2018 budget.

• Progress is being made at the site of the new Russel and Evelyn Fahl Aquatics Center, which has an estimated opening date in late June.

• The redevelopment commission approved a facade grant for Blue Moon Bakery, which is located in the southeast corner of the intersection of Main and Van Buren streets.

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