Panhandling Meters



It's been three years since the City of Sarasota anxiously pulled parking meters off the curb. Now officials may finally have a use for the devices—collecting change for the poor.

Sarasota city and county officials are in talks to donate the roughly 30 coin meters still in city possession for use by nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping the homeless. The hope is that the meters could both raise a little bit of revenue for programs and discourage people from giving change to transients begging on the streets.

"We need to do a very good campaign to say 'Stop Enabling.' When you give a homeless person a dollar you don't know what its going to, to alcohol and drugs or to food and shelter," said Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown.

Sarasota City Commissioners on Monday offered consensus in favor of using the meters this way. The city still has meters from its foray into metered parking, a program years in its implementation that cost roughly $600,000 but proved extremely unpopular with merchants downtown. City officials stressed not all of the equipment would be part of the new metered program with the homeless effort, only the coin-use meters and not any of the credit-card pay stations.

"It's an easier way of giving back and participating," said City Commissioner Suzanne Atwell.

City Commissioner Shannon Snyder did express concern that the effort could cost more to implement than it raises in revenue. He noted there is a donation by The Children's Fountain splash pad and it raises only about $50 a year. "We may pay more to paint these parking meters than we will collect," he said.

Brown said that hard cost could be avoided by participating organizations being responsible for repainting the meters, much the way commissioned artists decorated pianos in public spaces around downtown right now. There would be a cost associated with rekeying the meters so only the organizations could access the gathered coins.

The meters likely will be distributed in high foot-traffic areas around the county. Brown said most likely, officials would partner with only one or two organizations, who would use a number of meters.

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