Council lets intersection fundraising continue

After a third attempt to get a handle on fundraising at intersections, the Wichita City Council on Tuesday voted to allow the practice to continue.

The ordinance has more restrictions than in the past, but it isn't the total ban requested by police.

The council also agreed to bring the matter back for review in one year to see whether the restrictions worked.

"I'm 99 percent convinced it will work," said council member Sue Schlapp, who had pushed for additional restrictions as a compromise to a total ban.

The vote was 5-2, with Mayor Carl Brewer and council member Paul Gray voting against the ordinance.

"You can't just go out and play in the street because you want to," Gray said. "It's not a good idea."

The ordinance won't become official until it is approved by the council at a second reading next Tuesday. That reading is generally a formality for final approval.

A temporary moratorium on intersection fundraising will remain in place until after the second reading.

To some degree, all council members expressed concern about people standing on medians and soliciting funds. But the tipping point for some to support allowing intersection fundraising to continue was that the new ordinance will reduce the number of permits granted and that the issue will be reviewed in a year.

Since the city began allowing it more than 10 years ago, the number of groups participating and traffic volume have increased. Last year, 28 permits were granted — about twice the number issued in 2009, police said.

The ordinance adopted is the first tweak of the original one set up in 2000.

"It got a little sloppy over the years," Schlapp said of the conduct of some soliciting groups.

She said if problems still exist after a year, "then I think a total ban will probably have to happen."

Council member Lavonta Williams said she hoped the restrictions will discourage the number of out-of-state organizations from coming to Wichita to solicit funds at intersections. Fifteen of the 38 organizations that have received permits over the past 10 years weren't from Kansas, according to police.

Williams noted that none of those out-of-state groups took time to come to a stakeholder meeting held by the city in January.

Police first recommended a total ban to the council in mid-December, citing public safety. Twice the council delayed a decision, each time asking police to consider alternatives to a total ban.

While still recommending a total ban Tuesday, Deputy Chief Terri Moses also presented an ordinance with restrictions that includes reducing the number of intersections where fundraising allowed to 25 from 42. The 17 intersections eliminated includes those that have five lanes in one direction and those with the highest traffic volume and accident rate.

Other restrictions include requiring soliciting groups to be a 501(c)3 nonprofit, have at least $500,000 in liability insurance coverage and wear highly visible safety vests with identification. Groups also can't carry signs that block traffic view and may hold only one fundraising event each year for no more than three days in duration. No one under 18 is allowed to solicit.

Moses said the more restrictive ordinance does "enhance public safety." "That was our original goal, and we've achieved that," she said. "Would have I rather had a total ban? Yes."

She said a partial ban will be difficult to enforce and will demand more staff time.

Last month, the United Way of the Plains had supported the total ban. Moses said only four of the 1,400 nonprofits in the Wichita area had indicated they were against a total ban: Muscular Dystrophy Association, American Legion, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Camp Quality, which helps children with cancer and their families.

The MDA will be able to continue its intersection fundraising under the new ordinance. Since 1954, it has depended heavily on donations it raises each Labor Day weekend when firefighters hold the fill-the-boot campaign at intersections across the country.

Last year, firefighters collected $50,000 at Wichita intersections for MDA. The group has said its fundraising would be sliced by 70 to 90 percent if it wasn't allowed to collect in the streets.

"I think $50,000 shows a lot of support," said Rocky Bumgarner, president of the local firefighters union.

He said the new restrictions will bring some order to the intersection fundraising.

"Over the last 10 years we've had something growing to almost a free-for-all out on the streets," Bumgarner said. "We have kids out there, a lot of organizations that aren't very well organized."

But Brewer said, "We're placing a dollar figure on safety. It's almost as if we're sitting here saying $50,000 is the price of a life."

He also said one organization was just as worthy to collect in the street as another.

In the future, all organizations should consider alternate ways of to raise funds besides at intersections, Brewer said.

For decades, the Salvation Army also had used firefighters to raise funds at intersections on the first three Saturdays of each December. But at the request of Fire Chief Ron Blackwell, the firefighters collected from parking lots last December.

It wasn't clear whether the Salvation Army would now return to collecting at intersections.

"It's 100 percent the firefighters' decision," said Bethany Fatkin, development manager for the Salvation Army.

Bumgarner said he would discuss the matter with Blackwell.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle