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Our View: Give market vendors a break

In its meeting tonight, the City Council will take up the matter of a handful of Grower's Market vendors who haven't been paying the city's sales tax on prepared food. The council should give these smallest of small businesses a break and not ding them for back taxes dating from September.

Nine vendors are involved; the city notified two of them in September that they were liable for the tax. Other vendors were unaware their sales were subject to the tax because they operate under the market's business license.

That means they hadn't been collecting the tax from their customers. Paying back taxes from September until the market's closing date of Nov. 25 would mean taking the money out of their own pockets.

City Manager Dave Kanner outlined arguments for and against demanding back payment in a memo to the City Council: Letting vendors off the hook might appear to be playing favorites by enforcing the tax against restaurants but not mobile vendors. Businesses are responsible for knowing the law without being notified.

Those arguments are well taken, but so are Kanner's points supporting leniency: The amount of money is very small; vendors likely don't have records of sales so they would have trouble determining how much they owe; and paying a tax they didn't collect would be a hardship.

We side with the vendors. The amount of money involved isn't worth the bad blood it could create to demand payment, and it wouldn't be fair to make struggling vendors pay a tax they never collected.