Saratoga County

Saratoga Springs officials at odds over coin drops, illegal under state law

A new look at a state traffic law may keep charities from soliciting funds in the middle of city str

A new look at a state traffic law may keep charities from soliciting funds in the middle of city streets this summer.

Whether to allow coin drops has turned into a political fight over the last several weeks between Ron Kim, commissioner of public safety, and John Franck, commissioner of accounts — both Democrats who often spar at the City Council table.

Kim has asked charities that usually do coin drops not to do them anymore, but Franck has issued about a dozen permits this year for the drops and said he will continue to issue the permits because city law allows it.

Coin drops are an easy way for nonprofit groups to make quick money, but critics liken them to begging.

The law was created for safety reasons, said Police Chief Edward Moore.

Vehicle and Traffic Code statute 1157 states: “No person shall stand in a roadway for the purpose of soliciting a ride or to solicit from or sell to an occupant of any vehicle.”

Kim and Moore said that law obviously applies to coin drops, where fundraisers stand in the middle of a street or intersection and collect coins and bills from passing motorists. Coin drops that take place on the sidewalk are legal.

But virtually everyone in area municipalities ignores the law, from firefighters and sports teams, which raise money through coin drops, to local law enforcement officials who look the other way.

That’s why Franck said he would continue to issue the permits.

“We just can’t find anybody that [is] disallowing them at this point,” he said.

In 2004, a City Council-appointed committee developed standardized procedures that fundraisers must follow when they do coin drops, Franck said.

The requirements cover everything from the time of day when coin drops are allowed to the type of signs that must be displayed, where cones must be set and the type of visible vests people must wear.

Coin drops are allowed on Lake Avenue near East Side Recreation Field and on West Avenue.

In addition, fundraisers must be at least 16 years old, and if minors are fundraising, they must be accompanied by an adult.

“We have not, in my department, received one complaint,” Franck said.

Kim said his department has gotten complaints about the coin drops.

Both men think the other’s opposition is politically motivated, since they have sparred recently on the indoor recreation center and the new police station.

“This is not new law that just came in in the last couple of weeks,” Franck said.

But Kim said now that he knows about the law, he and his department are bound to enforce it.

Moore said he wants to make sure no one gets hurt during the coin drops and wonders whether the city would be financially liable if there was an accident.

Claire Tallon, district director for the Adirondack Green Mountain Chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, said she’s not aware of any accidents that have occurred as a result of coin drops.

Moore said legislation in the state Senate that sought to make coin drops legal has failed to pass.

The political battle between Franck and Kim has put the Police Department squarely in the middle, Moore said.

If a resident calls the police to complain about a coin drop, the police must respond and enforce the law, but a judge is likely to throw the charges out if the charity produces a city permit.

Moore said he wishes the two departments could have solved the issue quietly without it being splashed before the public, which sends mixed messages to the charities.

“Is that the right thing to be doing to our citizens? Absolutely not,” he said.

If a group has a permit, the Department of Public Safety doesn’t have the authority to tell groups not to hold a coin drop.

“We’re just asking for voluntary compliance,” Kim said.

Kim and Moore met with representatives from some of the charities Thursday and explained their position on coin drops.

They also distributed ideas for the charities to hold coin drops without blocking traffic, including at Price Chopper’s bottle return area and at Wal-Mart and Stewart’s Shops entrances.

But Franck said the groups already employ some of those methods of raising funds.

“These coin drops are very important,” he said.

The Muscular Dystrophy Association has done a coin drop in Saratoga Springs for about 15 years along with city firefighters, Tallon said. The organization raised $26 million in coin drops nationwide last year.

“We’ll probably come up with our own alternative” for Saratoga Springs, she said.

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