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Solicitors in roads concern council

Stepping onto city streets to solicit donations could be a thing of the past in Van Buren.

Members of the city council gave their approval Monday night for Mayor Bob Freeman to work with City Attorney Candice Settle to make changes to current regulations governing organizations that seek funds at busy city intersections.

“I and others, including citizens, have safety concerns about this practice,” Freeman told the council. “Currently, groups can get a permit to solicit funds if they have proof of liability insurance for those over the age of 18.”

“The traffic is too heavy and the practice too dangerous,” Alderman Donna Parker said. “Groups are coming from out-of-town on a regular basis and taking funds from good-hearted people.”

Parker said she did not want “people knocking on my car windows.” She said she would like to see the practice stopped on all city streets and rights-of-way.

Freeman noted the problem areas have been along Pointer Trail with its intersection with Arkansas 59 and 28th Street and U.S. 64.

Police Chief Kenneth Bell pointed out solicitors are banned from state and U.S. highways.

“This has become an every weekend event,” said Alderman Mary Ann Dodd, who then expressed concerns about how it would affect the Van Buren Fire Department raising funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Camp Sunshine.

Firefighter Tim Arnold said the VBFD would work around any new regulations and still raise the needed funds.

“We understand the safety concerns,” Arnold said. “We might have to work a little harder but we will find other ways to raise funds. Don’t worry about us.”

Freeman said he would work with Settle on a new ordinance and report back to the council as soon as possible.

The council voted 5-0 with Alderman David Moore absent to enter into a contract with CEI Engineering Inc. of Bentonville to provide professional planning and landscape architecture service for the preparation of the city’s first comprehensive parks and recreation plan.

“This is our first step,” Freeman said, “and there is no money involved at this time.”

Members of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, which recommended the firm, will work with CEI to prioritize the city project, according to City Planner Joe Hurst.

He said public input will be utilized in organizing the plan.

“We will then put it all together and do a budget,” Hurst said.

The council also:

• Voted to update the city’s sign regulations to deal with digital billboards.

• Removed a mobile video system used by the police department from the fixed asset inventory. Freeman said the failed system will be returned to the manufacturer after it is replaced under warranty.

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