October 24, 2011
The two most important items on this meeting’s agenda were: one, the proposed ordinance that would affect the ability of mobile vendors to operate in Newberry and the proposed ordinance that would allow open air markets to exist in Newberry. The second item was the discussion of Newberry’s acquisition of Canterbury.
However, before I relate those rather lengthy parts of the meeting, I would like to extend my gratitude to the City of Newberry, Commissioner Hoffman, Commissioner Fillyaw, and Mayor Conrad for once again showing an incredible level of generosity to Newberry High School. We listened to a presentation from Mr. Lance Hardy, the Math Department Chair at NHS, about his work to raise money to supply his students with technology that is engaging and motivating. Commissioner Lawson suggested that the City donate the $500 that we budget every six months for charitable donations, and of course, as a teacher at NHS, I was excited to hear her propose this. This means, though, that the City will not have any more money to donate to worthy causes for another six months. The way I understand it, the City has for the past few years budgeted $500 per six month period to give away on a first-come-first-serve basis for appropriate endeavors. Commissioner Lawson’s proposal passed, and Commissioner Hoffman and Mayor Conrad immediately stepped forward to donate from their own personal funds. Commissioner Fillyaw has also donated. This is, truly, a good cause, so if there is anyone out there who would like to make a donation, you can make your checks out to Newberry High School, and just write “calculators” on the memo line. It is a tax deductible donation. You can drop those checks off at NHS, City Hall (Care of Commissioner Marlowe), or just give it to me on the street, and I’ll make sure it gets to the appropriate person.
Now, there were two ordinances that we looked at last night, a mobile vendor license (MVL) and an open market permit. The MVL ordinance is designed to give people who would like set up a hotdog stand or operate a food truck in Newberry with an avenue to do that. Right now, our ordinances prohibit that kind of business in Newberry. With this ordinance, people would have a way to legally operate their business here. I think that is the fairest way to look at this ordinance, and it is the reason we looked at creating the ordinance. Everyone in Newberry realizes that, with the coming Nations’ tournaments, we will probably have multiple business people who would like to operate here but who probably won’t want to build permanent structures here. On the whole, I respect their right to make a living, and that’s why I think this ordinance is well written. I do think the City has to have some controls here because, ultimately, what we as residents need are the permanent businesses that will pay into the tax roll and help the City provide services for the residents. Mobile vendors don’t have to pay property tax. More importantly, though, they create an unfair level of competition for someone who wants to build a permanent structure. If we have someone who wants to build a restaurant, that person is looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars in building, renovating, taxes, and permits. The person with an MVL doesn’t have to deal with that, and therefore, can provide a much cheaper service. While I am all for free enterprise, the City has to have something in place so that those business people who do want to build here and pay into the tax roll aren’t driven away, or worse, driven into bankruptcy by an unfair playing field. I think this ordinance will help us balance this issue, but last night, none of the Commissioners were ready yet to vote on this or the next ordinance that I am about to write about. So, in the end, we tabled both of these ordinances so that we could all collect more data. I think this issue is going straight to the heart of what we want Newberry to look and be like in the future. If ever there was a time I needed your comments and perspectives, now is it!
The second ordinance is no less important when it comes to the future culture of Newberry. I think most of the residents in Newberry, especially the older residents who have been here for a long time, have a nostalgic connection to open air markets. The idea of buying produce from someone they know and trust and of doing their shopping out in the open air is very appealing to many people, myself included. So, this ordinance is designed as a compromise measure to allow for that type of business activity to occur here but still put the open air market owner in a fairer and more balanced relationship with our other business owners. As far as that goes, I don’t have a problem with this ordinance. I think, much like the MVL ordinance, this opens up possibilities for businesses in the future that don’t exist for businesses right now. I like that part, but somehow, this ordinance, because of (I think) its requirements that all sales happen under a roof, this ordinance ends up making it illegal for any business in Newberry to advertise its wares outside. This would affect stores like ACE Hardware, the feed store, Open Hands Charity, etc. . .. Now, I can see the intention of this clause. Nobody wants Newberry to look unsightly. But, I think we have this natural tendency to try to fix everything with more government and more regulations, and especially since we don’t have much in Newberry in the way of code enforcement, I’m just not sure this is the right way to go here. We already have beautification ordinances and nuisance ordinances. We tabled this issue as well so that the Commissioners could get more information, and I would certainly love to hear from you about this.
Please, leave me your comments, suggestions, and ideas!
The Future of Newberry
In lieu of the “How I’ve been spending my time” section, I thought it might be more appropriate to outline an issue that I think has the potential to split our community. The discussion above about our ordinances is really a discussion about how we want Newberry to ‘look’ in the future. I think we have a growing number of people in town who want to ‘remake’ Newberry into a more picturesque town. They see our potential to bring in new business and tourists and grow in a healthy, robust way, and they believe that, in order for that to happen, Newberry has to change its appearance. There are many valid points to this opinion. I also think it is important to recognize and acknowledge that we have many investors trying to influence us in these decisions. Now, that last statement can be viewed with two very different perspectives, and here is where I think we run the danger of dividing our community. First, we can look at that as ‘outside’ people trying to tell us what to do. I understand this response. As someone whose family has been here for over 100 years, I admit to a tendency to be protective and defensive about Newberry. But, on the other hand, having people who want to spend money in our town can also be viewed as a compliment. They see our potential, they want to become part of our community, and they are willing to help us. The question is help us towards what? And, this is where I need you to weigh in. As an old Newberrian, I’m not sure I really want to see us change too much. As a teacher, who has to look at students everyday who will struggle to find jobs, I think we need to embrace and vigorously go after every opportunity to grow. But, those opportunities will come with a price. What price, if any, are you willing to pay?
Leave me your answer.