By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
A group of people, who were operating flea market stands in the old parking lot between Bill’s Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut near the intersection of Mississippi Highways 26 and 53, told aldermen on Tuesday that a state tax commission official visited their stalls last week and told them they each had to obtain a $500 permit in order to operate at that location. Bill’s is no longer in business.
The aldermen at first told the vendors they didn’t have to have a city permit to operate there, but later said they were not sure and would have to talk to the board attorney, who was not present on Tuesday. The board later took the matter under advisement.
Alderman Bill Winborn asked Mayor Billy Spiers if city officials knew that state tax commission officials were in the city, and replied Spiers, “No. We did not know.”
Aldermen told the vendors that they did not call the commission and did not know whether or not anyone in Poplarville called them.
At the last meeting of the board of aldermen on Nov. 20, city officials said they had received complaints from some merchants about the vendors not paying state sales taxes while merchants have to.
Complaints also have been received that some vendors were selling apples and peaches and none of those fruits are grown commercially in Mississippi.
City code official Guy Ray Holston at the Nov. 20 board meeting said he had received complaints that vendors were selling fruit grown out-of-state and charging no sales taxes. Holston earlier told the board that merchants who pay sales taxes had complained to him. Officials said they did not know whether or not selling fruit grown out-of-state inside the city constituted a violation of any law.
One vendor said he was selling assorted merchandise out of his stall, “like in a yard sale.”
Alderwoman Shirley Wiltshire said that other city officials in other cities she had talked to charge a small fee for a permit to hold a yard sale, and that a yard sale has to have a specific time frame in which to be held, and could not qualify if operated on a continuing regular basis. It then would be classified as a business and would have to obtain a privilege license to operate and pay sales taxes, said Wiltshire. “However, I did not research all aspects covering yard sales on residents’ private property,” she added.
Said City Clerk Jodi Stuart, “I understood that you said you were told by the state people that you can’t operate without the proper state permits as you are set up. Current state statutes describe a garage sale as being held on property used for residential purposes.”
Added Stuart, “Once you move from a residential property to a commercial property and operate the market continuously, you become a business and are subject to state and local fees and taxes. If the state is telling you, you have to have a certain permit to operate, then the city is out of it and has no control over it.”
Continued Stuart, “The money is not paid to the city. It’s paid to the state. At least one vendor was found to be exempt last week and was allowed to continue because the item he was selling was exempt. Some items are exempt. For example, homemade crafts you make and sell yourself are exempt from sales taxes. But if someone else sells them, they are not exempt.”
Said Winborn, “I would suggest that we don’t do anything on this until we get an official opinion on the issue from Martin.” Martin T. Smith is the board’s attorney.
On Wednesday, only a fruit vendor seemed open for business on the lot. He and a vendor parked in the back of the lot were the only people on the lot. The vendor parked at the back of the lot was not open for business.