A flood of emotion is likely to wash ashore tomorrow afternoon when the St. Augustine City Commission holds its 3:30 p.m. workshop in the Alcazar Room at 75 King Street.
The city has proposed a new carriage ordinance that better regulates the horse-drawn carriages that use public streets to operate their private businesses.
At issue will be those who will say the proposed fees, $5,000 a year, are too high — and in opposition will be those who say the city’s current $80 a year fee is ridiculously low, among other issues.
The train and trolley operators will probably be scratching their heads; since they each pay the city $150,000 a year for the privilege of selling tourists a ride through town using the same public streets — and neither trains nor trolleys dump urine or manure for city employees to clean up.
It is my opinion, and the opinion of others who hashed this out over coffee Friday morning, that we have the cart ahead of the horse — literally.
First I think it is time the decision was made whether we as a community want horses and carriages on our streets or not. I believe that if you side with animal rights groups who feel the animals are mistreated and jeopardize themselves, the passengers, pedestrians and vehicular traffic all trying to share the same, narrow and congested downtown city streets, then you probably think the solution is to do away with horse-drawn carriages all together.
And, if the parties that are making a living operating carriage tours aren’t willing to repay the city for its cost in providing them a place to do it, then the taxpayers who own the streets and are subsidizing the carriage operator’s businesses probably think the same.
The city is not trying to put the carriage tours out-of-business, rather they are asking the operators to pay their own way — and they should. Likewise, the city, who grants the licenses to operate the carriages, is not trying to put the carriage tours out of business by reducing the number of licenses available from the current 46 to 25 — they should do that, too.
Terry Herbert, who has lived in St. Augustine for about 6 years and conducts carriage tours, wrote in a locally published letter that in recent years the most number of carriages on the street at any one time was 22 during the Christmas season of 2008.
“Truth is,” Herbert wrote, “there is a greater possibility St. Augustine will get hit by a hurricane than it will ever see 25 carriages on the streets at one time.” Although Herbert is making an argument that somehow the city is trying to put the carriages out-of-business, if he’s right, he’s reinforcing the fact that no more than 25 licenses are necessary.
In light of the fact that one person controls 44 of the 46 available licenses, reducing the number available has no effect on the monopoly Murphy McDaniel has been allowed to create — and that was the city’s fault. There should be no secondary market created in the trading, sale or lease of licenses issued by the city. The license is a tax for the operation of the business for one year — not an entitlement to do business next year simply because you were allowed to do business last year. Consider the fact that McDaniel claims he paid millions of dollars to accumulate all of the available licenses. Why did the city only see $80 of each one?
If you, as a taxpayer in the City of St. Augustine, think that the carriage business has gotten out of control and that the cost to the city is greater than the benefit received, you should let your voice be heard tomorrow afternoon — but you should be talking about doing away with the carriages all together, not wasting time arguing that the fees are too low.
If, on the other hand, you believe that the carriages, for all their inconvenience, have become part of our culture and enhance the tourism experience in St. Augustine, as I do, then you need to be realistic in assessing the cost to the taxpayers to support the tours and be willing to remind the operators that no one is making them buy a license.
How much were those trains and trolleys paying again?