Commissioners concerned about new city ordinance


    Grand Rapids city commissioners recently pushed back the date for a public hearing on a proposed ordinance because they felt the new regulation could possibly have a detrimental economic effect on the city’s smallest businesses.

    “This could really cripple a lot of our small businesses, which are the fabric of our neighborhood business districts,” said 1st Ward Commissioner Walt Gutowski.

    The ordinance would require pawnbrokers, antique dealers, consignment shops, jewelers, record stores — almost any business that sells secondhand goods — to report all the merchandise they take in each day to the police department via a new electronically formatted software system.

    The businesses are already required to file reports on the goods they receive. But the new ordinance would add another dimension to that by requiring the businesses to take digital photographs of the property they receive and the thumbprints of customers they buy the goods from, and then electronically send both images to the department on a daily basis.

    Assistant City Attorney Margaret Bloemers told commissioners the ordinance would help detectives identify and track down goods stolen in burglaries and larcenies, and possibly help catch the thieves. She said Wyoming, Kentwood and Grandville already have adopted similar ordinances. She also pointed out there were 2,258 burglaries and 6,462 larcenies in Grand Rapids in 2008.

    The businesses also would be expected to cover the costs of the additional reporting requirements by passing on the charges to their customers. Not complying with the new ordinance would result in a misdemeanor, which would be “punishable by imprisonment for up to ninety (90) days, a fine, not to exceed $500, and (the) costs of prosecution.”

    Nonprofit organizations that sell donated goods and used car dealers would be exempt from the ordinance.

    Police Capt. Jeff Hertel, who commands the city’s detective bureau, estimated that it would cost a business 50 cents for each digital transmission. Bloemers said no new tax dollars will be needed to operate the system.

    Second Ward Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss asked Bloemers if she had spoken with small-business owners about the new requirements and she said she hadn’t. Second Ward Commissioner Ruth Kelly said one business owner told her that he would close his store if the ordinance is adopted.

    “I think there could be some unexpected consequences here,” said 1st Ward Commissioner David Schaffer.

    The public hearing originally was scheduled for July 27, and commissioners were set to vote on the ordinance Aug. 10.

    “It feels like we need more information before we move to a public hearing,” said Mayor George Heartwell. “Personally I’m in favor of adopting this. … But I think some additional thinking needs to go into this.”

    So commissioners rescheduled the hearing for Aug. 10 and will vote on the matter Aug. 24.

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