Tuesday’s Statesboro City Council meeting was ripe with discussion and debate when the issue of permitting for what the city has been calling ‘temporary vendors’ arose for a second time.
The Statesboro City Attorney presented the first draft of an ordinance that would outline requirements for vendors inside city limits. This came at the request of the Council after controversy ignited relating to vendors who operate on a temporary basis – whether that be from a vehicle, a trailer, or a tent on the side of the road. These often include produce vendors, but from discussion, appear to target those who buy and sell textbooks on a seasonal basis in Statesboro from Georgia Southern students.
But ‘seasonal’ isn’t the correct term for these vendors, either. Seasonal often refers to those selling Christmas trees or pumpkins – the vendors who are temporary, but consistent and exist for an extended period of time.
Essentially, the first draft of the ordinance would grandfather in any temporary vendor who has been operating on a “consistent basis” for the last 12 months. If at any point, that vendor stops in consistency, temporary vendor status would be suspended. According to the city attorney, this ordinance exception would only apply to a handful of vendors – perhaps five or six. Mayor Moore expressed her desire for an even more succinct definition, calling for an outline of how long the cessation of sales must stop before the permit is suspended. She also emphasized that people are breaking the law because of the lackluster ordinance.
But then another issue arose. ‘Temporary vendor’ is not a term used anywhere else in Statesboro code. It isn’t used anywhere in Georgia code, either. So the City has been operating under the term ‘temporary vendor,’ but that term is not narrowly defined. Permits have been issued under this term, but again, it is not even defined which makes them discretionary.
Councilman Britt expressed his current unwillingness to draft an ordinance that applies only to a certain group of people, and barely addresses the problem the Council is facing: the idea of a ‘temporary vendor.’
Further debate questioned whether or not any new ordinance would affect the well-liked Statesboro Farmer’s Market, however, that market is city-sanctioned and therefore protected.
Mrs. Ellis, a resident from Hopeulikit who sells and purchases textbooks on an as-needed basis, addressed the Council to ask that they not punish property owners in drafting the ordinance. Initially, the Council considered tagging the permit to the property owner instead of the vendor, which would limit what property owners could do with their land. If the City limits how many days a year vendors can sell from a piece of property, property owners wouldn’t be able to rent their land to as many people. Mrs. Ellis emphasized the absolute necessity that landowners who pay taxes on their property should be able to do as they please on their property – even if that means renting to a different person every day of the year.
Mrs. Ellis also proposed her own ordinance definition for temporary vendor to mean the vendor operates:
- less than 3 days per week
- less than 91 days per year
- less than 46 weeks per year
Currently, a seasonal permit holder is allowed to have two 45-day permits annually under a seasonal vendor structure. Councilman Britt’s dissension on the citizen proposal was rooted in the loopholes for brick and mortar businesses – they could potentially obtain a temporary vendor permit and skirt more in depth requirements.
Finally, without resolution of the definition, the Council addressed the need for a fee structure for temporary vendors. Councilmen Britt, Boyum, and Lewis all expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed $35 per day fee, saying that was simply too much for small town vendors. A month of selling produce would cost over $1,000. Councilman Lewis went as far to say that he would like to see a breakdown of what the city is losing by not requiring permits for vendors, stating these vendors are operating legitimate businesses and aren’t doing any harm.
The City Manager, Robert Cheshire, emphasized that the concern is not money, but that the lack of a definition or a structure is causing difficulty in issuing permits because there aren’t outlined requirements.
The question remains: Should produce vendors and textbook buy-back tents be held to the same permitting requirements as long-term vendors and brick and mortar businesses?
Ultimately, the Council requested that the city attorney draft a second version of the ordinance for a second reading. Until then, no vendors – temporary or otherwise – will be affected.