New secondhand product sales ordinance coming

October 30, 2010
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What began three months ago as a proposed ordinance that irritated Grand Rapids city commissioners and incensed operators of the city’s smallest businesses has apparently turned into an acceptable regulation that both groups believe they can live with.

“I talked to some antique dealers on the west side and they didn’t have a problem with this,” said David Schaffer, 1st Ward city commissioner.

City commissioners agreed last week to substitute a revised ordinance for one that was presented to them in June, which required all businesses that buy and sell secondhand merchandise to report all transactions electronically to the city’s police department. Business owners said then that having to follow that requirement would be too costly and would likely force them to close their doors.

But the latest version requires that primarily pawnbrokers must file the electronic reports. The new proposal exempts other licensed secondhand merchants such as antique dealers, clothing consignment shops, used-book stores, art galleries and nonprofit organizations that sell used goods from the requirement.

“We have revised the ordinance to exempt certain dealers from electronic reporting,” said Margaret Bloemers, assistant city attorney. “This version of the ordinance meets the needs of the city of Grand Rapids.”

Under the new version, the city’s pawnbrokers will have to electronically report and tag all property they receive on a daily basis and then hold the merchandise for 15 days before putting it up for sale. The items the police department is most interested in keeping track of are electronic goods like computers, televisions and video-game players — items that are often stolen from homes and businesses.

Captain Jeff Hertel, who commands the city’s detective bureau, said pawnbrokers are regulated under different laws than other secondhand merchants, and their customers have the ability to buy back the goods they sell. Hertel, who has spoken with quite a few merchants over the past three months, explained that antique dealers generally buy their goods from brokers and estate sales.

“The ones that I talked to don’t take a lot of items off the street,” he said.

The new ordinance does require all secondhand dealers, regardless of the type of goods they sell, to be licensed, to keep a record of all purchases and exchanges of used items, and report any transaction that involves an electronic item. The format to be used for making that report can be negotiated with the police department.

Despite the changes to the ordinance, Bloemers said the new version meets state requirements. Hertel added that a similar ordinance is used in Washington, D.C., and it has resulted in a lot of stolen goods being recovered.

Although city commissioners unanimously substituted the new version for the old one, they haven’t approved the revision and aren’t likely to take that vote until Nov. 30. They will hold a public hearing on the matter Nov. 16. Second Ward Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss said the timeframe will give business owners a few weeks to review the ordinance and ask questions about it before the commission makes a decision. First Ward Commissioner Walt Gutowski said he was pleased that business owners took the time and made the effort to help shape the new ordinance.

Another ordinance is expected to come before commissioners Nov. 30. This one deals with hooking up to the city’s water and sewer systems, and Mayor George Heartwell angrily took issue last week with anonymously sent postcards that he said contained outright lies about the ordinance. “I consider this to be a piece of dirty work,” he said.

Heartwell said the postcards were mailed to city residents and to those who live in communities the city services with water and sewer. He said the postcards incorrectly reported that the new ordinance would force people to hook up to the system and be charged $30,000 to do that.

“It’s a lie. It’s not true,” said the mayor.

Heartwell said the ordinance would only require someone to join the city’s system if their septic system failed. “The best thing you can do with that postcard is to tear it into little pieces,” he said, “and then recycle it.”

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