What started with one donut may lead to Warsaw changing its laws to shed its image as an “unfriendly” town to businesses and merchants.
On Nov. 27 town officials sat down Tuesday evening to discuss an ordinance that would make the town more business friendly to vendors and food trucks. At issue are the town’s current rules for itinerant merchants.
The ordinance in place prohibits vendors and food trucks from doing business in Warsaw unless they pay $200 monthly. Mayor Mark Milstead first scrutinized the ordinance after Lou Wilcoxen and Angie Crown, the husband-and-wife owners of the Tappahannock-based food truck Crown Donuts, described their troubles with setting up business in Warsaw on a social media website.
In a recent interview Milstead said that he reviewed state code to see if the town ordinance was in compliance.
“I found that the code of Virginia caps that fee at $500 a year,” Milstead explained, adding that he did not know when or how the town adopted the ordinance.
Town Manager John Slusser stated that while council was in general agreement to amend the ordinance to have vendors pay $125 quarterly for the license they were unsure as to how “quarterly” would be framed in the ordinance.
“What constitutes the period?” Slusser asked. “Does it follow calendar years? Can it be 90 days from the date it was received? That was the only question that [Town Attorney Bill Lewis] was going to check into to let us know whether or not the code makes a distinction.”
Lewis noted that no distinction was made in the code.
Slusser proposed that the new ordinance require vendors to purchase or renew their itinerant merchant licenses every three months as opposed to every 90 days.
“Some months will be 31 days and others 28,” Slusser reasoned.
In addition, Slusser believed that in order for vendors to obtain itinerant merchant licenses, they needed to showcase a dedication to collecting food-sales tax from consumers.
“I would just say that it should be the requirement of the license, kind of like a conditional use permit,” Slusser said. “In order to obtain an itinerant merchant’s license, you have to be one to collect the taxes, both the sales taxes and the food tax.”
Slusser added: “If they’re supposed to collect it, we expect them to collect it, and if they’re not collecting it, it would not make sense for us to continue issuing them their itinerant merchant license.”
Milstead suggested that town officials enforce compliance after the merchants establish themselves.
“The first time is a leap of faith, but after that they’ve got to be compliant on their food-sales tax before [the license] can be renewed,” Milstead stated.
Slusser stressed the importance of the town ensuring vendors’ compliance regarding the collection of food-sales tax.
“Sometimes it has happened in the past where the vendor has collected the tax and has spent it on some other bill and it never finds its way into the town,” Slusser explained, adding that the conditions for obtaining a license renewal “needed to be toughened up a little bit.”
“For the initial [purchase], they start with a clean slate,” Slusser said of prospective merchants. “But if they’re delinquent on the food tax, they should not be eligible in my opinion for a renewal until they pay the tax.”
Lewis said he will report back to Slusser on any prohibitions against the town requiring the collection of the food-sales tax from vendors.
Lewis expects to complete his report before town council holds its next meeting to discuss the ordinance. Town council’s next meeting will be held Thursday, Dec. 13 in town hall at 7 p.m.