By Martha Stoffel
O’FALLON – The Public Safety Committee had discussion Monday night regarding restrictions for charity fundraising roadblocks in O’Fallon.
Charity fundraising roadblocks are typically held at the intersection of Lincoln and State Street, with some organizations also requesting an additional roadblock at the intersection of Smiley and State Street. Volunteers with various charitable organizations will stand with buckets in the center of each street, collecting donations from residents and visitors that travel through these intersections.
The current city ordinance restricts charitable organizations allowed to solicit at the intersections to ones either based in the city or that maintain a business or office in the city. Solicitation may be conducted on weekends only, defined as Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There are limitations of a total of eight hours in a weekend for no more than two days, and the ordinance restricts back-to-back weekends of roadblocks.
Ward 3 Alderman Matthew Gilreath made the request for the roadblock discussion to be added to the committee agenda because removing Friday collection times has been brought up during recent City Council meetings, and he wanted to have the discussion about possibly altering the ordinance to limit days to Saturday and Sunday.
At the January 7 meeting, council did approve the removal of a Friday request because the hours were from 4 – p.m. and concerns were raised regarding traffic delays for parents picking up children at after-care where they are charged extra if they are late. During the same meeting, council approved a Friday request made by a different organization, with hours from 8 a.m. – noon that would be held on Black Friday.
Gilreath cited feedback he receives from residents in his ward regarding traffic concerns, primarily due to diversion of traffic down residential roads by drivers looking to avoid the roadblocks. He also mentioned the concern that it is the same group of residents being, as he described it, “hit up” every time, a concern echoed during council meetings previously by Ward 6 Alderman Ned Drolet.
Police Chief Eric Van Hook indicated at the beginning of the meeting that from a Public Safety standpoint, they were unable to find any recorded accidents or anyone collecting money being hit in any of the intersections. He also mentioned drivers will choose an alternate route as they approach the intersection if they do not want to give or wait, so he did not believe you would see a tremendous traffic backlog because of people there.
Nine organizations requested road blocks in 2018, with applicants being entitled to solicit a total of two, non-consecutive weekends in any calendar year. Only one of the organizations requested two weekends. Five of the organizations requested times on both Friday and Saturday. Of the Friday requests, three had hours starting at either 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. There were also three requests for Friday evening hours, concluding at 6 p.m. Five of the organizations requested roadblocks at both intersections. One organization also received approval for ten hours in one weekend, instead of the eight hours set by the ordinance.
Several of the local, charitable organizations that participate in the fundraising roadblocks spoke to the committee regarding the importance of the funds raised during roadblocks to their activities within the community. Ed Martinez of VFW Post 805 indicated funds collected from the roadblocks are earmarked specifically for needs directly benefitting local veterans, and those funds recently allowed for two veterans to avoid eviction. The roadblock is their number one fundraiser, collecting as much money in three hours at a roadblock as they raise at Baconfest but without the months of planning.
When asked by Ward 2 Alderman Jerry Albrecht approximately how much money the organizations look to raise during roadblocks, the consensus amongst those organizations present was $3,000-$5,000. Albrecht desired for the committee to have a point a reference for when the organizations say they would have to make up funds another way if they did not have roadblocks.
Chris Armstrong from the Knights of Columbus said they have been doing roadblocks for about 35 years, and never had a problem. He has never heard a complaint from anyone that has driven by him, rather a lot of “thank you.” Some of the other organizations present echoed his comments of not having any issues during the roadblocks.
Ward 5 Alderman Chris Monroe asked if the city does any type of public service announcement on weekends when roadblocks are scheduled. Currently, approved roadblocks have been added to the city calendar on the city’s website. At the end of the meeting, it was agreed the city staff will look to ways they can better notify the community when roadblocks will be in place.
John Drolet, Ward 4 Alderman, said there are two issues, Friday/Saturday and the two locations.
“The big issue I have with the State and Smiley location is the schools and the dairy. There is no doubt that the traffic at the dairy has multiplied,” Drolet said. With the foot traffic of both high school and elementary school kids, young drivers and increased presence of trucks from the dairy, he is concerned that it’s only a matter of time before there is an accident and would like the city to be proactive.
“State and Lincoln… the amount of traffic volume in the city has really increased and now we’re just creating a slow down at a particularly busy intersection,” Drolet said.
Ward 5 Alderwoman Gwen Randolph mentioned a desire to survey the community, particularly those around the areas of the roadblocks, if the council is potentially looking to change the language of the ordinance. Ward 1 Alderman Ross Rosenberg encouraged the other aldermen to reach out to their residents, but also make sure to explain the use of the funds raised. Drolet asked if a specific question could be added to the next Citizen Survey about roadblocks as an unbiased approach to gather community feedback.
The meeting concluded with the consensus that no one on the committee is pushing for the elimination of roadblocks at this point, but will work with the city staff to add something to the next citizen survey. The issue has been tabled, unless a committee member or citizen requests the addition of the topic in the future. The city will also look for better ways to push out the information when roadblocks will be in place.