By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Transient vendors who come to Havre to sell their wares may have to pay a small fee to set up shop.
The Ordinance Committee of the Havre City Council met Monday night to look into a recommendation from the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce to implement a transient vendor fee within the city limits.
Under the city's current policy, transient vendors have to fill out a solicitor registration form with the city before conducting business in Havre, but no fee is charged.
"They pay nothing to do business in our community," Debbie Vandeberg, executive director of the Havre chamber, told the committee. "When they're done here, they take their money and leave."
Vandeberg said the chamber has been approached by several local businesses that believe it is unfair that transient vendors can sell their merchandise in Havre without being charged, while local businesses have to pay taxes and often support the community by sponsoring youth activities and community events. Chamber representatives said Monday that they'd like the city to set a nominal fee - $25 or $50 on an annual basis - for transient vendors.
"Businesses in Havre have to pay taxes on an annual basis," chamber president Chuck Wimmer said. "A transient vendor fee would help put the businesses on a more fair and level playing field."
Wimmer and Vandeberg proposed earmarking the vendor fees for a community project, like the skate park or a playground. Havre Mayor Bob Rice said the money would go into the city's general fund, unless a separate account is created for the funds.
Vandeberg said vendors at community events - like Art on the Avenue or the Saturday Market, which charges its own vendor fees - should not have to pay the transient vendor fee.
City Council member and Ordinance Committee chair Rick Pierson said he spoke to two transient vendors who said that they would be willing to pay a small fee to the city in order to sell their merchandise in Havre. Pierson said a transient vendor fee could be beneficial, if implemented properly.
"My biggest concern is that we find the right legal definitions for a transient vendor, so everything is clear," he said. "I don't want any lawsuits against the city if we do this. We really have to look at all the legalities of this issue."
Vandeberg said the city could look at other towns' ordinances for guidance.
"It's not like we're reinventing the wheel here; other communities have these in place," Vandeberg said.
Bobbie Atchison, assistant city clerk in Lewistown, said today that Lewistown charges a fee for both city businesses and transient vendors. Atchison said city businesses pay about $47 per year, while nonresident merchants can pay $19 per day, $28 per week or $47 per year.
In Belgrade, utilities clerk Sally Griffin said the city charges transient vendors $50 per year and city businesses pay $25 per year.
Havre resident Charlie Grant told the committee he believes all businesses, regardless of whether they're transient or established merchants, should pay the same fee to the city, if a business fee is implemented.
"I see it as the city seeking rent so everyone should have to pay the same," he said. "Include everybody, charge everybody, then it's fair."
Grant also said the city needs to ensure that transient vendors continue conducting business in Havre, where their unique merchandise often attracts tourists and other people driving through town.
"We need to get those cars stopped here and transient vendors do that," he said. "Those vendors sell interesting and unique items that people often can't get anywhere else. After we get those cars stopped, those people spend time and money here."
Wimmer said the fee is not intended to discourage transient vendors from coming to Havre.
"We don't want to hurt businesses. We're not trying to stop business; we just want them to pay their fair share," Wimmer said.
The Ordinance Committee voted to ask Havre City Attorney Jim Kaze, who didn't attend the meeting, to work up some possible definitions for the transient vendor fee. The committee plans to meet again in a few weeks to review the definitions and further discuss the issue. No date has been set for the meeting.