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A proposed change to the county’s code ignited a lengthy debate about peddlers and hawkers at Lancaster County Council’s Jan. 14 meeting.
The discussion about transient merchants and roadside vendors emerged this week after a request for a peddler’s license was brought to county officials’ attention.
County Administrator Steve Willis said at first he and other county staff considered asking council to simply delete the requirement for a license, as they are rarely requested.
“However, we discovered that this code section repeats a section in state code,” Willis said. “Council cannot amend or delete state law.”
As a result, Willis asked council to approve revising the county’s code to allow a peddler and hawker license fee to be established during consideration of the next county budget. Willis said the proposed fee could mirror a $150 fee charged by the city of Lancaster under its business license ordinance.
Councilman Jack Estridge wondered if setting a peddler and hawker license fee would be unfair.
“If we set a fee of $150 and we don’t even have a business license, to me it would be unfair for a person who is peddling or hawking,” Estridge said.
Willis said council can set the fee at any amount, though he said that discussion would need to be held at another time. Instead, the ordinance in front of council merely cleans up language in the county’s code.
Looking at an upswing in scammers in Indian Land’s Sun City Carolina Lakes neighborhood, Council chairman Larry McCullough said the peddler license could possibly be used to combat those crimes.
“There’s an issue taking place in Sun City where vendors sell paint jobs, landscaping, gutter work, additions (to homes) and most come in with North Carolina license plates,” McCullough said. “There have been numerous events where they talk to a sweet little lady. The project is $30,000 and they ask for $10,000 up front. Then they get the money and they are gone and there’s no records of who the peddlers are.”
McCullough looks at peddler licenses as a way to hold businesses accountable and protect residents at the same time.
“We’ve gotten into a little ‘iffiness’ in the definition of peddlers and hawkers, but it’s a problem in the community that needs to be and could be resolved,” McCullough said.
Council first broached the subject of peddlers and hawkers back in August 2011, when council members debated the merits of creating a license, as well as possible enforcement and the creation of a proper definition.
Crafting that definition, though, could be tricky, Estridge said.
“I know what you’re saying and I don’t want people to be taken advantage of, but where do you draw the line? I don’t know,” Estridge said.
As it stands, the county’s code defines peddlers and hawkers as people with no permanent business address who sell merchandise along streets or roads.
Councilman Brian Carnes asked about the possibility of creating a business license solely for out-of-state businesses working in Lancaster County, though County Attorney Frannie Heizer said that most likely would not work.
“You can’t require businesses outside of the county to do that, but I can see if something is possible,” Heizer said.
Listening to the debate, Councilman Bob Bundy wondered how feasible it would be to track a business that is scamming county residents.
“We’ve got individuals taking advantage and breaking the law. What makes us think they’ll comply with the law and get a license? They are already a predator,” Bundy said. “Can we educate the population and help these people not get taken advantage of?”
Councilwoman Charlene McGriff suggested setting a small fee and monitoring its affects.
“I think we talked this to death before,” McGriff said. “We need to set a small fee and watch it, whether it’s $10, $15 or no fee.”
“Let’s set it and move on and document how many (licenses) we get,” she said.
Council then approved the revision to the county’s code, allowing for peddler and hawker license fees to be set, by a vote of 5-1. Estridge dissented and Councilman Larry Honeycutt was absent as he recovers from back surgery he had earlier this year.
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416