MEREDITH — Vendor licensing fees during Motorcycle Week will likely become a warrant article for voters to consider next March. Yesterday, selectmen scheduled a public hearing on the proposal during their regularly scheduled board meeting on Dec. 21.
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 generally 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.
In August, selectmen tabled the proposal when they encountered stiff opposition from Laconia Harley-Davidson and Hart's Turkey Farm Restaurant, the two major hosts of vendors during the rally. Anne Deli, president of Laconia Harley-Davidson, warned "We will lose vendors" at that time, and asked "Does Meredith really want to put one more nail in the coffin of Motorcycle Week?"
Town Manager Phil Warren told selectmen yesterday that because Meredith cannot escape the impact of the rally, not to belong to the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association would be "a lost opportunity" to influence the event and suggested that the annual dues of $5,000, along with other expenses incurred during the rally, could be offset by vendor fees.
Meanwhile, Deli, apparently anticipating the discussion, sent a statement reiterating her opposition to vendor fees to the selectmen, which found its way to Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association. Deli described the rally as "in a very fragile state," which would be further weakened by "a new vendor tax." She claimed that Meredith "is no more crowded during the rally than on an average day in the summer season" and suggested the town "right-size its efforts and bring expenses in line with reality."
Invited to speak to the board, St. Clair said a fee of $50 per day would not dissuade vendors from operating in Meredith. He stressed that vendors "are more unhappy about their rents than about their vendor fees." He noted that the two other major rallies — in Daytona, Florida, and Sturgis, South Dakota — not only charge vendor fees but also sales taxes, which in Sturgis are increased during the event." He said for the vendors "it is a cost of doing business and it's not even on their radar."
St. Clair said Laconia removed the costs of providing police patrols and emergency services from the operating budget and established Motorcycle Week as an enterprise fund, financed primarily by vendor fees. "The property taxpayers are not paying for Motorcycle Week," he said.
In August, Warren told the board that this year the town incurred expenses of $18,017 during the event, 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, which represented special use permits issued to Laconia Harley-Davidson and Hart's Turkey Farm Restaurant at $330 apiece.
Selectman Ray Moritz questioned why the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association increased its membership dues from $2,000 to $5,000. St. Clair said the rally lost several of its presenting sponsors, including the Harley-Davidson dealership in Meredith. He said that when Linda and Herb Johnson owned the business it became a presenting sponsor of the rally, contributing $20,000 a year for at least five years, but "when Deli bought it in 2008 we lost $20,000 just like that."
Warren acknowledged that the association "is struggling," in part from an increasing preference for all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles over motorcycles. But, he emphasized that Motorcycle Week is "an economic development gain" for the town" and because "it doesn't just happen" he said he is "fully confident asking for membership dues of $5,000."
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