And it came to pass that the whole world should be taxed (or charged a fee) — unfortunately
When it comes to Christmas, you gotta love little cities like Abbotsford. And you gotta love huge metropolises like New York. Both, in the spirit of the season, allow Christmas tree sellers to operate without charge or regulation.
No permits. No fees. No problem. They’re showing a little faith and trust in the goodness of mankind — and the marketplace.
Who, meanwhile, is the government grinch in Appleton charging $45 for a Christmas Tree Vendor’s License and another $150 for an initial Temporary Use Permit as well as an “agent authorization letter” from whomever owns the lot plus a potential review from the Fire Department?
The hand of government is indeed a little “heavy” in Appleton, said Paul Jonen, who used to have a tree lot there but sold the property where he set it up.
He’s like most of us, just used to getting dinged. Government is government and, like more traditional taxes, “avenues of revenue are fees and permits. All municipalities are looking for income to pay for services,” he said.
Not all, actually.
Abbotsford, for one, doesn’t regulate the sale of Christmas trees, according to City Clerk Erin Clausnitzer (italicization added for this time of year).
“Generally, we just advise that if the trees are to be displayed in a property not owned by the seller, that some sort of agreement (ideally in writing) be arranged between the two parties,” according to Clausnitzer. “For example, our local Lions Club sells trees from the local grocery story parking lot. They have an agreement with the business owner and they keep the trees back from the sidewalk a couple feet to make sure that vehicles can see oncoming traffic before pulling out.”
Abbotsford doesn’t feel the need to get involved in a private transaction, in other words, or take a cut off the top just because they can.
New York City has epic budget woes but still allows tree-sellers to set up anywhere the local storefront owners will let them.
This had been going on since the late 1930s.
“The city’s administrative code allows that ‘storekeepers and peddlers may sell and display coniferous trees during the month of December’ on a city sidewalk without a permit, as long as they have the permission of owners fronting the sidewalk and keep a corridor open for pedestrians. (The law originally cited Christmas trees, but the religious reference was removed in 1984.),” according to the New York Times.
Our little survey of Wisconsin cities and villages, meanwhile, found that permit fees and regulations vary widely.
Albany, Wisconsin, has only one lot that sells Christmas trees, according to Village Clerk Michelle Brewer (another tremendous last name).
“They are not required to have a permit,” said Brewer, “and we’ve never had a request from anyone else.”
Some other examples gleaned from emails with clerks and/or municipal websites:
- The Village of Arena charges tree sellers $25 and, skeptical of human nature even at this time of year, asks the Police Department to conduct a background check.
- Franklin charges $35 and requires another $100 deposit the seller gets back when they close down.
- Superior has a municipal ordinance that says it charges $50 but also has a return policy. They give $25 back after the site is cleaned up.
- Algoma charges $100 and makes the “peddlers” sell on a lot zoned commercial. I’ve heard of commercializing Christmas; this, I guess is what’s known as commercializing Christmas trees.
- Neenah charges $25 and requires a minimum of one fire extinguisher serviced by a properly trained and approved extinguisher service company in the last year, plus “No Smoking” signs.
- Kenosha charges $50 for a license, and $40 for a deposit that is refunded after the Fire Department checks things out at the end.
The two City of Appleton employees who confirmed the process and costs have both been there less than a year so didn’t know the history of why the place is so Scrooge-like. A call to the mayor wasn’t immediately returned.
It did come to pass, I know we’re told at this time of year, that the whole world should be taxed. It’s a big part of the story.
Local government officials do know it’s not really supposed to be the point of it, though, right?
Mike Nichols is the President of the Badger Institute. Permission to reprint is granted as long as the author and Badger Institute are properly cited.
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