Bangor council outlaws ‘aggressive’ panhandling, solicitation

Posted June 10, 2013, at 10:06 p.m.
Last modified June 11, 2013, at 11:01 a.m.
James Gallant
John Clarke Russ | BDN
James Gallant
A panhandler plays guitar for spare change under the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge in Bangor.
A panhandler plays guitar for spare change under the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge in Bangor. Buy Photo

BANGOR, Maine — The City Council has banned “unreasonable, aggressive solicitation.”

Under the new pair of ordinances, unreasonable solicitation occurs when an individual asking for money, a signature or another “item of value” blocks a passer-by on a sidewalk, street or public way; follows a person asking for money repeatedly; threatens a person with physical harm through words or gestures; or touches a person without his or her consent. That applies whether the person being solicited is on foot or in a vehicle.

According to the ordinance, passed by the council during its Monday night meeting, the aim is to “impose reasonable limitations on solicitation in order to protect the safety of the general public against unreasonable solicitation while respecting the constitutional right of free speech.”

Anyone caught violating the ordinance will be assessed a fine between $25 and $150 for each offense. The fine will increase with each violation.

Downtown business owners and residents have reported an increase in the number of people asking for money downtown during the past year.

Councilor James Gallant, who presided over the meeting in the absence of council Chairman Nelson Durgin, said some police discretion would be needed to determine when plain solicitation crosses the line and becomes aggressive.

Councilor Benjamin Sprague said the ordinances appeared to be redundant, as blocking a public way and touching a person against his or her wishes already are unlawful, but he backed the ordinance, saying it might play a part in reducing problems downtown.

The ordinance passed 7-0, with councilors Durgin and Susan Hawes absent.

Also at Monday night’s meeting, councilors passed a resolution to oppose any potential border crossing inspection fee. The council will send that resolve to Maine’s congressional delegates.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is planning to study the feasibility of imposing a fee for those crossing from Canada or Mexico into the United States.

The resolution states that many residents along the Maine-Canada border cross frequently to get to their jobs, visit friends, attend church, shop or get a bite to eat.

“The city of Bangor is at the center of the metropolitan markets of Montreal, Quebec, Halifax and Saint John and is within 10 driving hours of 50 percent of the Canadian population, generating a significant amount of taxable consumer retail sales in the Bangor area,” the resolution states.

Councilors are concerned that establishing a fee would result in decreased tourism and hurt the city’s revenue figures, they said.

Late in the meeting, during a heated discussion about how the Legislature’s proposed budget deal would affect the city and its taxpayers, Councilor Charlie Longo made a disparaging comment about Gov. Paul LePage. Councilors Sprague and Joe Baldacci admonished Longo and requested that he apologize. Longo said he was sorry if his comment “made people uncomfortable,” but declined to rescind it.

The state budget includes a $1.1 million reduction in Bangor’s revenue sharing, which will need to be made up for in service reductions or property tax increases beyond what the city already has proposed because of reduced revenue and increasing mandated costs handed to Bangor by both federal and state governments, according to city officials.

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