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Bedford might end license requirement for Sunday sales

BEDFORD — The Town Council is proposing to repeal the Sunday sales licensing ordinance, which has been in effect since 1976.

The council voted to bring the matter to a public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8, because the town has not been able to administer the ordinance fairly and licensing only produces an annual revenue of about $18,000, which in 2014 would be offset by other revenues.

Town Manager Jessie Levine recommended repealing or amending the ordinance and any fines associated with noncompliance.

The ordinance is related to a state statute that requires towns to take action to allow businesses to operate on Sundays.

"Blue laws like this are relics of the past. It goes without saying that it is common business practice, and consumer expectation, for Sunday services and sales," said Levine in a memo to the council. "Based on an email survey of other communities, no communities responded that they require a fee-based license such as that required in Bedford. I understand, however, that such a license is required and enforced in the city of Manchester. In 2012, the town of Wolfeboro repealed its Sunday ordinance adopted in 1932 and replaced it with a permissive ordinance to conduct activities on Sundays."

The Bedford ordinance now requires businesses to obtain a license annually for any sales of merchandise on Sundays, including retail stores, restaurants, automotive services, drugstores and real estate sales.

The fees are based on the gross square feet of a business, with $50 for the first 2,500 square feet and $2 per 100 square feet beyond 2,500 square feet. The maximum fee for licenses is $500, and they are effective from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31.

Refreshment stands, booths and mobile operations that only operate from May through September are required to pay $25. The ordinance mandates a license fee of $10 for the sale of Christmas trees and wreaths. Also subject to current licensing fees are sports, games, auctions and exhibitions in which admission is charged or donations are accepted.

However, not all businesses have applied for licenses or paid fees.

"There is no practical way right now for the town to implement it and fairly administer billing since it calls for knowledge of what businesses are open on Sundays," said Council Chairman Chris Bandazian at the Dec. 4 meeting.

In addition, the town has not enforced licensing on certain sports activities and town events or civic organizations's activities.

It takes four town employees about five hours per week during the four- to five-week period in November and December to send out bills, process payments and mail licenses.

Bills are only sent to about 100 businesses in town that had applied for and received the license.

"We may send a reminder notice to those who haven't renewed, but we do not follow new businesses, and we do not enforce existing businesses that have been around for ages but never sought a license," Levine said.

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