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Watertown Discusses Panhandling License

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An ordinance in Sioux Falls banning panhandling has been in effect for a few weeks. And now other cities in South Dakota are trying to do something similar. KDLT was in Watertown Tuesday to learn more about how the city council, police department and residents are working together to stop beggars.

Monday the Watertown City Council passed an ordinance limiting panhandlers to be 20 feet from a door or ATM.  

The goal is to help businesses on the east side of Watertown that have dealt with panhandlers bothering customers.

But Watertown City Council members and business owners know this won’t solve the city’s panhandling problem, so they have another plan.
"What I'd like to see is that they have a license to be there,” said Lynn Ingles, the owner of Interstate 29 Shell.

Lynn Ingles is the owner of Interstate 29 Shell, and he said panhandlers have worn out their welcome.

Not only do they bother his customers while getting gas, they leave the areas in which they stand a mess.

“I've gone and picked up a half a dozen McDonald’s bags without a single thing taken out of it,” said Ingles.

Ingles said the new ordinance is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.

“They just need to have a law with some teeth,” said Ingles.

City Council members and the Watertown Police Department agree.

So as of Tuesday, the city attorney was drafting a proposed licensing ordinance for panhandlers.  

“We would license the panhandlers, and they would come to the police station, assuming it passes. We would finger print, I.D., check for warrants,” said Michael Christians, from the Watertown City Council.

Watertown Police said it would be the same process peddlers go through.     

"Panhandlers would have to register. Probably would make contact with them, tell them about the ordinance, and tell them where the police department is and then they'd have to come down and go through the process,” said Lee McPeek, Assistant Police Chief Watertown Police Department.

And with a possible fee of $1,000 to obtain the license, council members hope it will make panhandlers not want to make a stop in Watertown.

So we asked James, a man from North Carolina, we found at the of I-29 and 212 what he will do if the ordinance is passed.

“If it comes down to it, and we can't panhandle or just fly a sign, I guess will find other pastures,” said James.

But he wants people to remember one thing, nuisance or not.

"I'm not stealing or hurting anybody. If people want to help me out, I am thankful for them,” said James.

Ingles and others have noticed panhandlers are circulating between towns. Apparently they go between Brookings, Watertown and Fargo. And to help them out Ingles said he has even offered them a job. But he says none of them have taken him up on his offer.

The draft of the panhandle license will be brought to the Watertown City Council December 3 for its first reading. Supporter hope to have it passed within the next couple of months.
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