Panama City commissioners passed a controversial ordinance last night that makes it illegal to aggressively panhandle in the city.
City officials say the new law is necessary to deal with a growing problem in the downtown area. They hope it will encourage homeless panhandlers to move to another area. But homeless advocates worry this new law will lead to profiling of homeless people.
But it was another part of the ordinance that caused a big debate at Tuesday's commission meeting. The city commission removed a chapter that referenced a special events handbook because the handbook had not been approved yet.
The handbook has some increased permit fees for special events in the city.
"The city's been providing the police force. But also we've been providing electricity, providing water. And as you've heard we've been doing trash pick up," Commissioner Mike Nichols said.
To cover some of the costs, the city is considering increasing permit fees from $5 to $100. The handbook also adds a $250 refundable security deposit.
Event organizers and vendors worry about the future of their events with increased fees. Organizers of the Mardi Gras celebration argued they hardly make any profit now. And what they do make goes to charity. But city officials say they spend $14 thousand on police overtime for this year's Mardi Gras. The handbook suggests a 50-50 split of those costs. But city officials agreed that number seems too costly.
"That is big numbers in terms of an event that doesn't make that kind of money, but at the same time how do we balance that?" Nichols said.
The city will schedule a public workshop to get more feedback on the new handbook.