Indiana, PA - Indiana County

INDIANA BOROUGH: Panel to study vendor licenses

by RANDY WELLS on October 17, 2012 11:00 AM

Transient vendors such as "Hot Dog John" Minda will be allowed to continue offering their wares along the sidewalks of downtown Indiana for now, but an ad hoc committee of Indiana council may propose by next month recommendations to more strictly regulate how, where and when they operate on public property.

And a second ad hoc committee will soon start deliberations on another major change for the borough -- the possible downsizing of borough council.

Council President Nancy Jones said council has no complaint with John Minda, of Saltsburg, who for several years has held an active transient vendor license in Indiana. Minda sells hot dogs around lunchtime from a small cart usually parked in front of either the current or former court houses downtown.

But more people have been applying for transient vendor licenses and small carts are being replaced by bigger trailers, Jones said. Council needs to get a handle on the situation while treating everyone equitably, she said.

"We feel the transient vendors can be a beautiful thing in the right city," but Indiana is not ready for them, Mary Beth Akbay, an owner of Romeo's Pizza in the borough, said during the public comment portion of Tuesday's meeting.

Akbay said businesses like hers employ people and give back to the community, but transient vendors generally do not.

According to Akbay, a significant part of Romeo's sales are between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m.

"We have already seen a slight decrease in business" in that time frame, she said, and she attributes the drop to the transient vendors operating from private property near the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus and targeting IUP students.

Romeo's owners, she said, are adamantly opposed to transient vendors being allowed to operate in the borough.

"John Minda has added a lot to this town. He's everybody's friend," said borough resident Carol Ellsmore. "This is free enterprise. He's not taking business away from anyone."

Solicitor Wayne Kablack told council that, in his opinion, it is unlikely the borough could completely prohibit transient vendors from doing business in Indiana without such a prohibition being challenged in court. And the borough probably would not prevail in a court challenge, he said.

Most communities trying to control transient vendors have chosen to do so by legislating and regulating them, by establishing limits on the number of licenses issued and by setting boundaries on where and when they can operate and restrictions on what size equipment they can use, Kablack said.

Indiana Police Chief William Sutton described the existing ordinance dealing with transient vendors as "a very cumbersome piece of work."

He suggested that if council favors allowing transient vendors to continue operating in the borough, it should approve a revised ordinance that is more specific about where the vendors can be located.

There appeared to be early agreement on one point: Any revised ordinance should be written so that council doesn't have to be involved in the application review and license-issuing process.

"Council shouldn't be burdened with this," but rather it should be dealt with administratively, Sutton said.

Council agreed that an ad hoc committee, chaired by Kevin Kravetsky, will formulate recommendations for a draft of a revised ordinance that will allow some number of transient vendors to be licensed, but under more regulated conditions. Kravetsky said following the meeting he expects his committee will have recommendations ready for the full council to consider at its Nov. 6 meeting.

President Jones received support for her suggestion that it was time for council to seriously examine whether Indiana council might operate more effectively with fewer than 12 members. Council has long been composed of three representatives from each of the borough's four wards.

Jones said council members occasionally and quietly have discussed the possibility of downsizing council. At times it has been difficult to reach decisions because of the size of council and on occasion it has been difficult finding candidates to fill all 12 seats.

Jones said it's appropriate to now look seriously at the issue of reducing the size of council because several incumbents' terms expire next year and if they want to run for re-election they will need to file petitions in February.

An ad hoc committee formed to study downsizing council should also discuss whether members should be elected by wards or all be elected as at-large candidates representing the entire borough, Jones said.

John Hartman will chair that ad hoc committee.

Solicitor Kablack said that to reduce the number of members, council must follow a series of steps within specified time periods, but it is his opinion that a referendum by voters will not be necessary to make the change if council decides to do so.

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