Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fries with that?

I left the last Council meeting with a strange feeling. The discussion on the garage sale ordinance and garage sales in general made me think that I had wandered into a board meeting of McDonalds. It made me think they were trying to create the next happy meal.

There are a number of issues associated with garage sales. Parking, trash, outside storage, safety, etc.. The vast majority of these are already addressed by ordinances dealing with traffic, parking, public nuisances, signs, and the health code. Granted, these ordinances are often ineffective. They don't help with the problems created by garage sales. Of course, they also don't help with a rowdy super bowl party or family barbeque. They won't help when smoke easys start cropping up after the smoke ban goes into effect. They don't really help if you neighbor is just a slob, garage sales or not.

So why did I think happy meal? A happy meal is a standardized, commoditized, lowest common denominator set of products combined around fad based marketing. They're probably okay for an occasional meal when out shopping with the parents, but not close to balanced nutrition. It's a one size fits all solution that can pass for a meal targeted at kids and their parents.

The garage sale discussion seemed headed for a happy meal solution. A one size fits all solution to the fad issue of the day targeted against a specific group. The basic ordinances that address the real issues were talked about because they failed. On problem after problem, whether it was parking in alleys, outside storage of items, trash, etc. the refrain was that the current ordinances took too long or were ineffective. The gentle push was for a garage sale ordinance that limited the number and addressed again what the other ordinances already couldn't handle. We could easily end up with a happy meal of an ordinance. One that's not very nutritious, one size fits all, and driven mostly by the current fad issue.

Let's fix the problems with the current ordinances that don't work. I don't want to hear the council asking if we want fries with the next ordinance.


  1. Putting restrictions on something as "American pie" as garage sales is an issue in itself. I also wonder whether or not this talk has been prompted by the Feds' recent speak of taxing garage sale revenue, an absolutely disgusting premise.

    Granted, bad neighbors are bad neighbors. Let's work on fixing the neighbors, through simple peer pressure, before attempting to legislate their character or lack thereof. Yes?

  2. The local issue is from complaints about bad neighbors. There are about 4 or 5 places in town that seem to be running a garage sale business with no consideration for the impact it has on their neighbors. Much like the puppy mill that keeps resurfacing, there are just a few inconsiderate people that are causing problems. And just like the puppy mill, the current approach doesn't work.

    Taxes and garage sales are always an interesting issue. By the strict letter of the law I suppose all garage sale income should be reported as income to the IRS. I would bet that there are people in Austin thinking about how to force garage sales to collect sales tax as well. And how many times have they used the Tax system to prosecute organized crime? I can see it now: Mandatory minimums for failure to pay garage sale taxes.

  3. 1. We're really going to let 4 or 5 idiots ruin things for the other 100,000 people of San Angelo? It's time to step back, take a deep breath and rethink the solution to the problem.

    2. The income you used to buy all the 'stuff' you're selling has already been taxed (X2, including sales tax), yes? Why would it need to be taxed, again?

    Just sayin'.

  4. Ed, sounds like you've got it to me. I don't think they should tax garage sales either, but I'm not in DC or Austin.

  5. I have a neighbor on the block, nice folks, but teen drivers and a multi-generational home. When everyone's there, more cars than one typically sees at a garage sale. They really try not to overflow and I have no complaint.

    The problem with numerical limits is in enforcement. Do we really think the patrol officers are going to talley annual numbers of garage sales, in their spare time so to speak?

    For example, the watering ordinance, water the lawn once a week, twice a week, whatever the current limit. Most residents with automatic spinklers time them to come on at no o'clock in the morning, doesn't mess up the back yard BBQ then. Nobody checks this and I suspect most leave the timer alone, making restrctions on watering days a commonly violated ordinance.

    My opinion, address garage sales through the nuisance ordinance. Is the traffic of a volume that impedes neighbors' acces to their own property? Does the junkyard appearance detract from neighbors' property value? A more difficult ordinance to write, but it wouldn't be a "happy meal".

    Tax question, I leave it to the IRS and State Comptroller at what level of enforcement we hit the Law of Diminishing Returns. Yes, all sales should pay income and sales tax. If it costs a few grand to prosecute a failure to pay $37.46 in tax, perhaps this is not a good use of tax money.

  6. Jim (and Jim),
    The only thing that could be taxed (ethically, morally, legally?), on garage sale revenue, is the "profit" (amount over which you originally paid, per item). I tend not to visit garage sales, where at the proprietors are selling used items for more than their original cost. Placing a tax on anything additional to that would be taxing income that has already been taxed. Please, let me know if this is an inaccurate assumption.

  7. The above comment refers to income tax, only. State sales tax may be a whole 'nother animal.

  8. What makes up income is a philosophical and legal question that won't be answered here. Morally, I'm not really in favor of an income tax period, especially with automatic payroll deduction. It doesn't really have anything to do with whether the "income" or "item" has been taxed before.

    Almost every dollar you ever see will be taxed several times before you get it and will be taxed several more times after it leaves. Most taxes are not taxing what you have, but the exchange or movement of money. Every time money changes hands, the government wants to be there and get its cut. A not so silent partner.

    Property taxes are the exception. The "Personal Property Tax" a business owner pays is especially problematic for me. I buy a vehicle for my business, and I pay the taxes to get it registered. Then every year while I own it I get to pay tax on this vehicle I've already paid tax on. If I have inventory on the first the year that I haven't sold yet, I also get to pay tax on that before I sell it to you and collect additional taxes.

    Much of the tax system seems immoral and unethical, but the laws are there that make it legal until it's repealed or overturned. Not happy with it but it is what it is.

  9. Ah, Jim. You know I'm not an "it is what it is" kinda guy. Sure I'll let a sleeping dog lie, when I like the dog. If not, I like to throw stuff at it, wake it up and kick its ass down the street, so he runs away, with tail-between-legs, and knows not to come back.

  10. Remember: Big sleeping dogs don't bite. Especially important with big sleeping dogs with lots of hired teeth.

  11. "I ain't ascared!" They just need some tough love.

  12. Turner caught the point that money is taxed everytime it moves. One reason I can agree with calling the ineritance tax a "death" tax, it often is death to family businesses. It doesn't take a huge farm by Texas standards to be worth $5 million and gat a "tax on the rich" rate.

    The mechanism encourages sales to corporations, which aside from going broke never "die", and become subject to the tax.

  13. I have always believed that stores such as Goodwill and The Salvation Army Store which sell used clothing, etc. to the unfortune members of our community should be exempt from the sales tax.