Residents defend ‘garage’ sale rights
By 05/22/2003 00:00:00
The Ellis County Press
FERRIS - Residents filled the council chambers Monday to debate the new garage sale ordinance and to ask the council to 'take another look' at what the restrictions will mean to the city.
Ordinance opponents said garage sales bring people into town to shop at Ferris' antique shops, the restaurants and the gas stations, while traveling through town.
Ferris resident Bill McCarty, one of the merchants selling goods out of a local storage unit on the weekends, said he had a petition with signatures of people who came to the city specifically to shop at garage sales.
The Ferris Self Storage buildings sit on FM 664 with an open lot as a border to the west
and a car wash bordering the eastern side of the property.
Storage unit participants said the sales bring people into the city from as far away as North Dallas or Waxahachie to go 'garage sale' hunting.
'Sometimes we have as many as 200, 300, 400 people who come through here on a Saturday and I didn't see where it hurt anything.
'If we ain't got it (what the shoppers want) we send them up here to town.'
The garage sale issue was originally brought before the council and voted on during the April 21 council meeting, when Mayor Pro-Tem Scott Born said several people had complained about the 'perpetual' garage selling going on in the storage units.
'It doesn't make sense that one or two people didn't like us doing it,' McCarty said.
Councilman Victor Burnett asked Born if Mary Grones, a former Ferris resident who now resides outside the city limits, asked him to address the issue by placing it on the agenda.
Born said he has not acknowledged which residents asked him to place the item on the agenda.
'She don't even live in the city, [but] she owns [rental] property in the city,' McCarty said.
McCarty said Grones, who used to live behind him and his wife, informed them she was one of the people pushing for the ordinance.
Grones wrote a letter to the mayor and city council members to congratulate them on taking a stand against continual garage sales and garage sale signs.
'Please remain committed to this issue … I hate the way that the town looks on weekends when mini flea markets spring up in the storage buildings,' stated the letter from Grones.
'If nothing else, they are a danger when cars park along the road and block traffic … you are sure to have complaints from people who want to run the perpetual sale, but they shouldn't have the right to run a business without the proper inspections, taxes, etc. I want to congratulate you again for taking a stand on the issue,' stated Grones.
Burnett said, 'She managed merchantiles [Mary's Merchantile] without a license, with a host of code violations.'
'She also hosted garage sales every weekend at her house,' Councilman Jesse Hernandez said.
Some council members said the continual sales are actually operating as a business and also questioned if proper sales taxes were being paid.
City Secretary Alice Holloway said according to the Texas State Comptroller Office, people can have two garage sales a year without paying sales tax, but after the third the seller must pay taxes.
Operating as a business would also require sellers to pay sales taxes and to have a state tax permit.
Councilman Jessie Hernandez said businesses can have garage or yard or sidewalk sales as long as they are zoned as a commercial retail business with a valid tax permit from the state.
'I don't want to pay [employees] to enforce this,' Hernandez said. 'I think this is going to become a nightmare issue.
'I think people should take it upon themselves if they're going to pay taxes on it. If they're not, that's between them and the state comptroller as far as I'm concerned.'
Councilwoman Lori Perkins asked, 'How do we know that you're paying your sales tax?'
Hernandez reminded Perkins the sellers are controlled by state comptroller, not by the city council.
McCarty and his wife said they have a state tax identification number, paying sales taxes quarterly.
'We don't have a choice, because when we buy stuff we don't pay taxes on it and it goes straight to the tax office,' Mc Carty said.
The whole issue is the storage buildings became an eyesore to the public, Perkins said.
'It was like we were getting to look like Trader's Village. I'm sorry but that is not a good area,' Perkins said.
'If we were like Canton and had First Mondays, had it once a month, people come up there and pay for booth space and sell their merchandise.
'That would be fine. We're not Canton. We're not Grand Prairie. We're not set up to do that.'
'They're using the property for something it's not [designed] to be used for,' Mayor Pro-Tem Scott Born said.
'Self storage is self storage, but when you turn it into something else ... it's not set up for that, it's not intended for that.
'I'm restricted by the zoning and the ordinances of the city to keep it as a certain purpose.'
Perkins asked the storage renters why not rent a storefront property to sell their items.
McCarty informed her it would not be feasible to rent something in town when he only sells about $500 a month.
He also noted there are currently no open spaces to rent and all the vacant buildings in town are being used as storage.
After a lively debate at the meeting, it was determined no one was sure of the zoning code of the storage buildings east of town.
Burnett made a motion to table the discussion after raising the question, 'Is this property commercial or retail?'
Holloway said she would research the zoning and the council would discuss the garage sale ordinance at a future council meeting.