MEREDITH — The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously last evening to recommend a warrant article to Town Meeting in March that would introduce a licensing fee for vendors selling goods, services and food during Motorcycle Week.
The vote was taken in teeth of opposition from Laconia Harley-Davidson and Hart’s Turkey Farm Restaurant, which together host about 30 vendors.
Following the precedent set by Laconia, the ordinance would require all transient vendors, other than nonprofit organizations soliciting donations toward a charitable purpose, to be licensed by the town at a fee of $450 and $500 for food services, which would entitle them to operate from noon on the first Friday until midnight on the last Sunday of the rally. Vendors operating without a license could be fined up to $500 for each day of unlawful operation.
At the suggestion of Selectman Bev Lapham, the board amended the proposed ordinance to become effective in 2017. He expressed concern that agreements already reached between property owners and vendors, either written or verbal, for the rally in 2016 could be jeopardized by levying the fee next year.
The licensing fee is intended to defray the cost of municipal services incurred during the rally. Town Manager Phil Warren said that this year expenses were $18,017, which consisted of $7,149 for police overtime, $5,868 for fire service and $5,000 in dues for the town’s membership in the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association. Revenues amounted to $660 from special use permits issued to Laconia Harley-Davidson and Hart’s Turkey Farm Restaurant at $330 apiece.
Police Chief Kevin Morrow told the board that in the past three years the department has responded to an average of 237 more calls for service during the rally than in the weeks before and after it. He said that the department adds three officers on the last three days of the event.
Fire Chief Ken Jones said that the station is staffed during “the most strategic times” of the week to ensure a timely response to calls for service by call firefighters operating in heavy traffic.
Director of Public Works Mike Faller estimated the department spends about $3,000 placing and removing signage and disposing of trash.
Will Swart, general manager of Laconia Harley-Davidson, read from a letter by Anne Deli, president of the dealership, claiming the ordinance was targeted at two businesses. The dealership, she noted, employs 150 during the event, makes significant contributions to local charities and pays more than $44,000 for a police traffic detail. She warned that attendance is diminishing and a vendor fee will threaten it further.
“We’re not singling you out,” countered Selectman Michael Pelczar. “This is not aimed at one business or anybody in particular.”
Selectmen Ray Moritz noted the dealership charges vendors $5,000 in rent and asked “why is a $450 fee the straw that breaks the camel’s back?”
“This will open the door,” Swart replied. “This is an open checkbook. That’s the reality of it.”
“It’s a bit much for me,” said Russ Hart of Hart’s Turkey Farm Restaurant, who remarked he would be paying a fee to operate a hospitality tent on the property next door, which his family sold to the previous owners of the dealership. “It’s not welcoming,” he added. “We don’t need anything to diminish Motorcycle Week. It’s aging out on its own.”
Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, said that all municipalities that host motorcycle rallies license vendors and assured the board that a fee would not deter vendors from operating in Meredith.
Selectmen John James reminded Hart that Meredith is “the only place without vendor fees.” Hart replied that “Meredith is a special place.”