By Joel Hall
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) has unanimously banned the solicitation of donations along county roads and highways, except when those donations are collected from passing motorists by uniformed, public-safety officials.
The board voted 5-0, during its regular business meeting on Tuesday, to pass an ordinance enacting the ban. Amendments to the county ordinance state that "no person shall stand in or enter any street, roadway or highway for the purpose of soliciting money or anything of value."
The new ordinance also states that as "they are readily recognizable by the public and are not likely to cause alarm, this section shall not apply to uniformed members of the fire department or police department performing public service with the permission of their department head, or to uniformed deputy sheriffs performing public service with the permission of the sheriff."
Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said the ordinance will help maintain the "safety of our citizens and the persons who are out there in the roadway."
"I've had any number of complaints from citizens [stating] that they've been frightened, and some have been abused by persons ... We don't have a strict way of knowing their affiliations or where the money is going," Bell said. "I think it's high time to protect our citizens. Many have been cursed at with children in the car and that kind of thing, and I appreciate the Board of Commissioners stepping up and taking very firm action."
Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Wole Ralph said that, in the past, some youth sport leagues have used children to help solicit funds on highways. He said the issue has been a cause for concern among residents.
"A lot of times, children have been in the streets and it has created some safety challenges for the motorists," Ralph said. "The county provides a subsidy for recreation programs through the benefit of tax dollars. We've always discouraged those county organizations from soliciting dollars on street corners. This may encourage some of those programs to participate in that benefit."
Bell said the ordinance will not impact solicitations on private property, such as charity car washes.
"I want to encourage them to know that they can still solicit on private property, such as the young cheerleaders and that sort of thing who wash cars," Bell said. "I want to get these pedestrians out of the street so that their lives, nor the citizens, will be placed in jeopardy."
In another matter, the board voted to approve a construction contract with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to complete $1 million in traffic-signal and intersection improvements along Ga. Highway 139 in Riverdale. The project, according to Clayton County Transportation and Development Department Director Jeff Metarko, is "100 percent state and federal funded" and will require no matching funds from the county.
"It's a Georgia DOT-funded project," Metarko said. "It's their initiative. The county is the manager of the project. The idea is to upgrade the equipment so we have better operations and install pedestrian facilities. The intersections without crosswalks will have them, to ensure the safe passage of the pedestrian across the road."
Metarko said the improvements will take place along 10 intersections between Main Street in Riverdale and Ga. Highway 314. The construction is slated to begin in early 2010 and should be complete by the end of 2010, he said.
On Tuesday, the board also voted to increase of the county's hotel/motel tax from 6 percent to 8 percent. Starting Dec. 1, the 8 percent tax will be applied to the cost of any room or lodging in the county, excluding room charges to government or school system employees traveling on official business.
In May of this year, the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation allowing the county to levy the tax at a rate not to exceed 8 percent.
According to Clayton County Staff Attorney Michael Smith, Tuesday's action will put the tax hike into motion before the end of the year.
"We had to ask for local legislation to pass it back in March," Smith said. "The legislature enacted it at the end of the session. This puts it into place."
According to Smith, 5 percent of tax proceeds will go toward promoting Clayton County tourism and 3 percent of the tax proceeds will go toward funding specific county projects.