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County amends transient vendor ordinance

Joshua Sebold
Staff Writer

The Plumas County Board of Supervisors approved the first reading of an ordinance to amend the county code in areas relating to itinerant vendors at a Tuesday, July 6, meeting.

The ordinance changes the itinerant vendor license cost from $25 per day or $100 per month to $200 per year.

For most vendors who follow regulations and spend more than eight days selling in the county, that should constitute a savings.

The ordinance also eliminates requirements to fingerprint vendors, but requires them to present identification and to provide names of all individuals authorized under the license for that year.

The treasurer's department, which will issue the licenses, will provide this information to the sheriff's office for background checks.

After the meeting, Acting County Counsel Brian Morris said the penalty for breaking the itinerant vendor rules would remain at the infraction level.

Infractions are considered less severe than misdemeanors and usually consist of fines that grow if offenses are repeated.

Finally, background information for the ordinance indicated that sales "benefiting a charitable or public purpose where the seller is not paid" would be exempt from the rule.

Morris told the board a committee composed of himself, chairwoman Sherrie Thrall, treasurer Susie Bryant-Grant, environmental health director Jerry Sipe, sheriff Greg Hagwood and auditor Shawn Montgomery came up with the proposal.

He said itinerant vendors would have to display their license and get written authorization from the property owner of the land they were selling on.

The attorney explained these types of vendors were already precluded from operating on highways or county property.

In a telephone interview, Morris said the written permission rule was not intended to apply to door-to-door salespeople.

Morris told the board that vendors participating in larger events already have permits addressing this topic, like the county fair and the High Sierra Music Festival, and would be exempt from the requirements.

"So who's going to go around and check if they have the license?" Quincy Supervisor Lori Simpson asked.

Thrall said the sheriff's office would take on that responsibility.

Bryant-Grant told the board she had already spoken with a vendor who was pleased he would be paying less on an annual basis and wouldn't have to come in every month to renew his license like before.

Indian Valley and Feather River Canyon Supervisor Robert Meacher asked if people at farmer's markets would have to get licenses.

Morris said the board would have a list of "recognized community events" that did not require licenses.

Vendors at those and other events would still have to comply with environmental health requirements and other rules.

Meacher said his impression was that the emphasis on enforcing the licenses would hurt more locals than it would stop shady door-to-door salesmen or people hocking stolen good.

He thought the county should have business licenses for everyone, which he contended would be helpful in economic development because the chambers and the county would have a better idea of what businesses existed in the county.

He also implied the fees could go to business-friendly uses.

Later in the meeting, Thrall told him she agreed that would be good, before adding that was not the topic in front of the board now.

Bryant-Grant told the supervisors most business owners were assessed more on their property values, creating an added expense that itinerants did not have to pay.

She argued that code enforcement would level that playing field more.

Eastern Plumas Supervisor Terry Swofford added Portola had recently passed rules that were very similar to these.

Bryant-Grant said a large part of the effort would be the sheriff's office running background checks on itinerant vendors before licenses were approved, "to see if there's any warrants, if they're a pedophile, if they're a drug dealer."

Thrall said, "A lot of this is an outgrowth of our brick-and-mortar businesses coming to us and saying 'we're here, we're paying property tax, we're paying business tax as far as coffee machines and whatever equipment.'

"We're contributing to every charity that comes to our door and then right next door to us comes in a vendor for three days and sells the same thing and undersells us because they don't have all this overhead. The problem was to look at how to level the playing field.

"You obviously can't restrict free enterprise from coming and being there, but we do have some control over knowing who they are and if there's a problem how to find them."

Meacher asked how the committee came up with the $200 fee amount.

Thrall said the group was trying to strike a balance between covering license administration costs and reducing the annual cost for vendors who spent a lot of time in the county. The focus was to get more information about vendors who did not own property in Plumas but came in and out.

The chairwoman added people had not been following the previous rules and this change would make it easier for the sheriff's office to provide enforcement.

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