Rent and the Use of Public Sidewalks
Edward J. Dodson
Almost every day during the week, I emerge from The Stock Exchange
Building where I work and walk to one of the food cart vendors spaced
about every half block. Reports of food handling and bacteria problems
aside, these vendors offer food quickly served at an affordable price.
I have no idea what their profit margins are but many seem to make a
go of it year after year. As a customer, I am one of the last persons
who would want the city to make it tough on them to do business and
earn a living. That said, I would like the City to start thinking of
public sidewalks as valuable
locations and a legitimate source of revenue.
These locations ought to be leased out each year to the highest
bidder. After all, not every location is equal. Those with the highest
foot traffic will generally bring the most business. When a restaurant
or store leases space from a building owner, the leasing fee has as
much or more to do with the location as with the building itself.
Private owners charge the market rate for locations. Why shouldn't the
City do the same (and in the process ease the tax burden on those of
us who now have to make up the revenue not collected from the vendors.
By the way, I was told by a reasonably reliable source that when a
vendor decides to sell out and do something else, the purchaser pays
not only for the cart but for the informal but well-enforced "rights"
to the locations now given to vendors for free.
If all this seems a bit trivial, there is an important principle
involved that is rather consistently ignored by our City Fathers and
elected officials. Locations are made valuable because the community
exists, because people are taxed to pay for streets and sidewalks and
police and fire protection and for garbage removal and for other
public services. Those who have control over locations ought to be
compensating the city for whatever financial advantage the location
brings. So, just as I ask the food cart vendors to pay a market rent
for their locations, I call for every other owner of a location to do
likewise. And, just as it makes no sense to tax a food cart vendor for
the value of his or her or their food cart, it makes no sense to tax
building owners based on the value of whatever building they put up at
a given location.
Fair is fair. And how we have been taxing people for far too long is
hardly that -- food cart vendors and the rest of us as well.