Havre Daily News
After hearing complaints from a businessman, several residents and some of its own members, the Havre City Council on Monday struck down an ordinance that would have charged itinerant vendors $50 each year to sell their wares door-to-door or from temporary locations.
Critics of the ordinance called it too vague, and supporters said it could not be further improved. The City Council's vote was 5-2, with one member absent.
Havre already has an ordinance requiring that itinerant vendors register with the city before selling goods and services. At the request of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, the City Council's Ordinance Committee included the annual fee.
Chamber members say the fee would ensure that traveling vendors leave something behind in Havre, noting that all businesses in the city pay taxes and many also support local schools and charitable causes. The vendors get the protection of the Police Department and other benefits for free, chamber president Denise Ladenburg said today.
“We felt like these people were coming in and setting up shop, getting police protection and various benefits without paying a fee,” she said. “Most communities do have (a similar ordinance).”
Ladenburg noted that $50 a year is “fairly inexpensive.”
Council president Rick Pierson, who chairs the Ordinance Committee, said today the ordinance will likely go back to the committee, which will have new members after Jan. 1.
“We'll just wait and see what happens,” he said. “More than likely, it'll go back to the table. The council and the people want correct and accurate wording, and I guess that's what we'll have to do.”
Pierson initially defended the wording of the ordinance, which the committee has worked on for more than a year, but relented after hearing the comments Monday night.
“We put together an ordinance that we thought was fair to everybody,” he said during the meeting.
Pierson said he has talked to a number of vendors who come through Havre, and many are “surprised” they don't have to pay a fee.
“If the wording of this isn't good enough, it should be voted down and sent back to the table or to the committee,” he said after hearing the complaints.
He voted against the ordinance, along with council members Jack Brandon, Emily Mayer Lossing, Dana West and Allen “Woody” Woodwick. Tom Farnham and Terry Schend voted for the ordinance. Pam Hillery was absent.
Lossing and Hillery voiced concerns about the ordinance at a Dec. 5 City Council meeting. They questioned whether the ordinance would require payment of the fee by local residents, churches and organizations that hold rummage and yard sales.
Lossing and Woodwick on Monday questioned the clarity of the ordinance.
“I just think this needs to be clarifieda lot more,” Mayer Lossing said.
Schend said he thought the ordinance was clear enough.
“I think the word ‘itinerant' says a lot in itself,” he said.
A “Community Voices” column by Lou Lucke that appeared in Friday's Havre Daily News prompted calls from a number of residents, several City Council members said.
City attorney Jim Kaze, who drafted the ordinance, admitted that parts of it were unclear but said that rummage and garage sales would not fall under the ordinance.
“I would tend to believe the intent is relatively clear ... it's not intended to address garage sales,” he said.
Kaze said one exclusion for vendors who sell “local” agricultural products needs to be defined more clearly. He also said it is troublesome to come up with an ordinance that will cover every possible loose end.
“These kinds of ordinances are difficult at best to address all of the issues that may arise,” Kaze said.
As exclusions are added for one group or another, the ordinance increasingly becomes “potentially suspect” and open to legal challenges, he added.
Ladenburg said the intent of the ordinance is to charge vendors from out of town, not local residents.
“We definitely don't mean to stifle anybody's local business endeavors, whether it be yard sales or produce,” she said.