South Boston Town Council is considering the possibility of eliminating a peddler’s fee for food vendors and instead having them apply for a business license and collect a meals tax after vendors brought their concerns to council Monday evening.
Michael Coleman of South Boston started the discussion of the yearly fee for vendors to operate during the council’s citizen comment portion of the meeting.
He expressed concerns about the annual peddler’s fee of $500 he has to pay to operate his food truck and ice cream truck here in town.
“We [vendors] work hard to make $500,” Coleman said. “Can a reconsideration be issued on that price? Five hundred dollars is extremely high.”
Coleman presented to council a cost comparison of vendor fees for other cities in Virginia, including Danville, Richmond, Roanoke and Virginia Beach.
“It’s unbelievable to find out that their fees are extremely lower than South Boston’s fees,” Coleman said. “Richmond would be the most expensive one, which is $300 per year, and the rest of them around $30 to $50 a year to operate.”
Coleman also noted that the population of the other cities in the cost comparison is much higher than South Boston’s population.
“To truly compare apples to apples, we’d have to find out if these food carts in these other towns are collecting meals taxes to offset the cost of the permits,” Mayor Ed Owens said.
Owens explained that the town set the peddler’s fee at its current rate of $500 because they stopped requiring vendors to apply for a business license and charge customers a meals tax. The fee is in place to offset the lack of revenue from the vendors no longer charging the meals tax.
“One of the things you can do is go back to collecting the meals tax,” Owens offered to Coleman. “Does that sound like a reasonable solution?”
Coleman said he is open to that idea.
Councilman William Snead suggested that the vendors might fare better if they charged the 6% meals tax, which would profit the town, instead of paying the $500 fee, depending on their yearly revenue.
Another vendor, George Crowder of South Boston, shared his concern about having to pay the $500 fee every year, even if he starts operating his business in the middle of the year.
“If I started in June, I have to pay my $500. Then December comes around, and I have to pay another $500,” Crowder said.
Town manager Tom Raab clarified that the peddlers’ fee is not prorated; it’s done by the calendar year.
He said the town originally implemented the peddlers’ fee to collect revenue from vendors passing through town once a year to sell their wares.
Town finance director Mickey Wilkerson added that the current peddlers’ fee is $100 for vendors selling their goods in town at a one-time event and $500 for vendors selling their goods in town all year long, on a more permanent basis.
The question of the number of vendors in South Boston also arose in the discussion.
Raab said although he does not know the exact number of vendors, he estimates that number is “less than 20.”
As the discussion drew to a close, Councilman Winston Harrell recommended having the vendors apply for a business license and collect a meals tax in lieu of charging them the annual $500 fee.
Owens asked if that amendment would require a change in the town code.
Raab said he would do some research and report back to council on the matter.