SARATOGA SPRINGS – The prevailing practice of kids selling water for a buck-a-bottle to patrons outside the entry gates of the Saratoga Race Course will no longer be permitted, announced city Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen, who said he has fielded numerous complaints connected with the issue.
“This is something that was (started) with the best of intentions, but it’s turned into something that has been quite a drain and everybody in our department is fed up with what’s been happening,” Mathiesen said.
The act was never legal to begin with, with no sales tax charted, and no licensing involved. Vendors are typically required to obtain a license to sell their wares in Saratoga Springs. A 1934 ordinance exempts from the city’s licensing ordinance the sale of milk, periodicals and newspapers – the latter of which is a common practice outside the racecourse, and which will be allowed continue.
“A number of years ago, one of our code enforcement officers, Dan Cogan, was trying to be a really good guy and make it possible for kids to be able to sell bottled water at the track as a way for them to make some money,” Mathiesen explained. The suggested guidelines stipulated the seller be 14 years of age or younger and allotted a one cooler maximum, filled with water bottles. “It’s turned into something that has gotten way out of control,” Mathiesen said. “Unless the City Council acts otherwise, this illegal activity is not going to take place in 2018.”
Current Code Enforcement officer Jack Donnelly supplied a letter that cited numerous complaints involving kids obstructing traffic, older folks – not just kids – selling and refilling multiple coolers of water, and families arguing with one another about their “spot,” to the point where the police had to intervene.
“This past season was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Code Enforcement. My department was constantly badgered and disrespected by a few of the water bottle salespersons this season,” reads Donnelly’s report, which adds that the safety of the unattended children could not be guaranteed given the large crowds of people going in and out of the racecourse. “I feel Code Enforcement should not be burdened with having to babysit an illegal endeavor.”
City Police Chief Greg Veitch released a statement which reinforced safety concerns and noted some coolers have been chained to race course fences overnight in an attempt to hold that vendor’s “spot,” and police have witnessed several unattended children selling water for hours at a time from multiple coolers re-stocked multiple times by parents throughout the day.
“While the police have no interest in closing down the lemonade stands of small children looking to make a few dollars – unfortunately, like many things in life, the actions of a few have led to a decision to ban all unlicensed water sales from the area around the racetrack beginning in the 2018 racing season,” Veitch said.
Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco suggested the city explore the possibility of a lottery-type system which would allow some kids, under regulated guidelines, to continue to sell water and subsequently learn some entrepreneurial lessons.
“If you regulate it, you have to accept responsibility for it, collect sales tax and declare income on a regular basis,” Mathiesen said. “There are a lot of hurdles there.” According to Assistant City Attorney Tony Izzo, a similar lottery practice was instituted during the 1990s, but resulted in an unfair flooding by some “entrepreneurs” of the lottery box.
“Even the people inside the track like to come out and buy the water because it’s only a dollar compared to like five dollars inside,” Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan said. “I’m not going to sit here and argue about something that’s essentially illegal – but if there’s a way to do it legally, where it’s enforced and safe and kids can be supervised, I think the next Council should probably take a look at it.”