Watermelon business being eyed by Laurel
By Tony E. Windsor
Once again, members of Laurel Mayor and Council spent time discussing concerns about a seasonal business which some feel is not paying its fair share of town service fees. During the Jan. 22 meeting, Councilman Garret Pusey recommended the town develop a package to present to Michael Nichols, owner of Heartland Produce, that would help the town recoup funds for operations.
Pusey suggested the town at least request that each year Nichols have to pay the $250 cost of securing a variance for his temporary office set up. He also recommended that Nichols’ taxes be pro-rated based on the three to four months he is set up on the property.
Councilman Richard Banks asked why Nichols’ taxes would be pro-rated when other citizens in Laurel, who live half the year in Florida, do not have their taxes pro-rated. Banks argues that Nichols was violating town codes by having a mobile home brought in as a temporary office.
“Laurel’s code calls for having a permanent building constructed on property, not a trailer,” he said. “He (Nichols) is basically paying taxes on a (package) shed he has on that property and the town is reaping no benefits. The town is supplying services, like law enforcement, and this gentleman is not paying his fair share. The trailer he brings in each year is not in compliance with our town codes.”
Pusey said he feels by “working up a package” dealing with the variance and taxes, Nichols would in fact pay his fair share, but not pay all year around. Pusey has said he does not feel there is anything wrong with the way Nichols operates his business, as long as the fees are paid.
Banks had inquired as to why Nichols is not made to hook up to the town’s sewer system like other businesses. Currently, Nichols has town water, but has used an above-ground holding tank for sewage.
Public Works staff has stated that town sewer lines run on the north side of Sussex 468 and Nichols’ property is on the south side. To get the line to Nichols, the town would have to bore under 468, an extremely expensive ordeal.
Banks said Nichols’ property is in the proximity of the Food Lion shopping center and therefore could possibly hook into the sewer system behind Food Lion. Public Works supervisor Danny McCumbers said this option would be expensive.
The council has addressed the Heartland Produce issue in past years and has declared that prior to coming to Laurel, Nichols has to request to bring his temporary trailer to the property site.
Acting Mayor Ann Davis has been attempting to make contact with Nichols to discuss potential options regarding his temporary office site. However, she has not been successful in making contact.
Banks said he expects that the town should either change its code regarding mobile homes so that Nichols can bring his trailer legally into the town, or set up a variance and work with that.
The council decided to allow Davis to continue to communicate with Nichols while the town Financial Analyst, Mary Introcaso, works on developing a fair value package for Heartland Produce’s annual business in the town.