WESTMINSTER - Merchants' complaints about unfair competition from door-to-door salesmen have prompted city officials to consider stiffening the law governing peddlers.
"(The merchants) said it didn't seem quite fair that (the salesmen) could set up and sell a rather complex assortment of goods without much regulation, said Mayor W. Benjamin Brown. "Local businesses have to pay inventory taxes and licensing fees, and these people don't."
Under the current ordinance, a peddler must purchase a $10 license that is valid for the entire year, said John D. Dudderar, city clerk.
Licenses are not required for people selling farm and garden products they have raised, sales by auctioneers or through a judicial process, he said.
In addition, the ordinance does not apply to non-profit groups.
"This is geared to profit-making rather than non-profit civic groups," Dudderar said. "The people going door-to-door selling pots and pans and such."
However, the permit application only asks for a general description of the business, not specific references or how many people will be selling, he said.
"The feeling is that these people should be accountable to somebody for any complaints the police department might get," Dudderar said. "We should be able to go back and say, 'You sold this person a piece of junk.' " City police chief Sam R. Leppo agreed.
"We find that there are many, many, many people selling on one permit," he said. "This summer, we issued a permit to a company, and there were 60 to 70 people in this area selling.
"There are all these people selling a product, and we don't know a thing about them."
Another police concern is that the merchants are not required to specify what days they will be selling, said Leppo.
"Once a person gets a permit, he can sell any time during the year," he said. "I can hang the list (of permits) in my office, and we may not see them for six months.
"By that time, the officers won't remember these people are supposed to be here selling."
County regulations are no more strict, requiring only a $102 state foot peddler's license, valid from May 1 to the end of April the following year.
Applicants provide their name, address, phone number and Social Security number.
"With that, they could actually sell anywhere in the county," the deputy clerk for Carroll's Circuit Court said, adding that peddlers must also follow town ordinances in incorporated areas.
In contrast, most towns require more specific information, including age, weight, height and letters of reference.
Each individual selling must have his own license or be listed on the application.
"We really just try to establish their legitimacy," said Jim Schumaker, town manager of Sykesville. "It's just so that people realize that people out there selling have checked in with the town office."
Permits are generally $10 for a full year, although they are free in Sykesville. Mount Airy charges $1 for the permit, Manchester asks $20, and Taneytown charges $5 for the permit and $1 for each day of solicitation.
Seasonal solicitors selling produce in Taneytown are charged $15 and do not have to specify the dates they are selling, said Linda Hess, clerk/treasurer for the town.
Westminster's attorney, John B. Walsh Jr., is drafting a new hawkers and peddlers ordinance, Brown said. City officials are unsure when this will be presented to the City Council.