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Coin dealers, antique shops bristle at new Pasco ordinance

DADE CITY

Trevor Campbell got dizzy when he read the letter from the Pasco Sheriff's Office. He sat down at a chair in his kitchen and read the letter again. In his hands, he held the county's new Secondhand Dealers Ordinance. Sheriff's deputies say they've traced numerous stolen items to pawnshops through an electronic database that catalogs merchandise the shops receive. Now, the office wanted all secondhand dealers — antique shops, flea market vendors, auction houses — to use the same database and same rules as the pawnshops.

As a secondhand precious metal dealer, Campbell would be lumped into the category of dealers affected by the ordinance. It's a move he says would change the way he does business dramatically and for the worst.

Campbell already enters his purchases into the electronic database, taking photos of the gold he buys and taking information, license plate numbers and thumbprints from sellers. Under the existing state law for secondhand dealers, he is already required to hold the merchandise for 15 days before he sells it, making it easier for deputies to see whether that piece of merchandise turns up stolen.

The new county ordinance doubles the holding time to 30 days, which wouldn't be a problem, he said, except for turbulent gold values. Campbell lives and dies by gold prices. In the 30 days before Friday, the value of gold dropped by $70.80 an ounce, according to Kitco.com. This new ordinance, he says, would put him under.

"They can't do this," he thought.

He searched the ordinance on Google and saw it had passed in a County Commission meeting about a month before he'd even heard about it.

"Sure enough," he said. "They can."

The letter mentioned an information session at the sheriff's district office in Dade City, where dealers could learn more about the ordinance and how to comply.

Campbell was one of 12 secondhand dealers — including antique shop owners, gold dealers, an auctioneer and a flea market businessman — sitting with crossed arms and stern faces before the session on Thursday.

Lt. Rob Bishop knew there would be some unhappy people at this meeting. He expected there might be some tweaks to make to the ordinance later. And he expected to give business owners the information on the new ordinance, and they would comply.

That's not what happened.

The dealers launched a barrage of complaints and questions.

Kathleen Hotchkiss, manager of Top Drawer Antiques in Dade City, took issue with the ordinance's requirement that she document all her merchandise within 24 hours of buying it.

Sometimes she does estate sales where she takes in a houseful of items. Listing descriptions for all that merchandise would be impossible, she said.

"Imagine going home tonight and having to document everything in your house by 10 o'clock tomorrow morning," she said.

Antique shops are exempt under the aforementioned state law from being labeled as secondhand dealers, so Hotchkiss never had to comply with a the same holding period as pawnshops. She said she still doesn't know whether the 30-day holding period in the county ordinance applies to her merchandise. If it does, she said, she'll have to buy a warehouse.

Campbell also spoke up about the 30-day waiting period.

"Is it worth … putting these people out of business?" he asked Bishop.

Bishop said the process was fair. He explained that the ordinance was a melding of similar ones in Hillsborough and Sarasota counties. Pawnshops were already complying, and the electronic database and holding time seemed to be working.

Sheriff's Detective Eric Pfenninger pulled out photos of four gold maple leaf coins, valued at $5,000, that had been stolen. With the database, he said, deputies were able to take a description of the coins from the victim of the robbery. When the thieves sold them to Gold Nugget Pawn, the coins were logged into the system and found. The thieves were arrested.

Campbell said his business doesn't work that way. Pawnshops collect interest with the 30-day waiting period. He wouldn't. He'd be losing money.

Then Pasco County Commissioner Ted Schrader stepped in.

"The commission … should have vetted all these concerns before we adopted it," he said. "It's apples and oranges and we have to treat them differently."

He opted to have the discussion tabled until the next commission meeting, at which time he plans to bring up the dealers' concerns.

Although it was the original intention of Thursday's meeting, Bishop never explained the database to the dealers. As for how the dealers should conduct business until then? "As you were doing," Bishop told them.

(Sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll later told the Times that dealers would still be expected to comply with the ordinance and should contact the Sheriff's Office for an explanation of the new rules and how to use the electronic database.)

After the meeting, Bishop leaned against a table.

"The ordinance is good," he said. "I think there is some tweaking that could be done."

Pfenninger said the Sheriff's Office "didn't think that it would hurt the businesses."

Since then, Schrader said he's contacted County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder to talk about revisions to the ordinance: mainly how to separate antique dealers from pawnshops.

"That's the focal point of Dade City … the antique shops," he said. "So therein lies a problem. Let's see if we can fix an unintended consequence."

He said he plans to present the disagreement at Tuesday's commission meeting, around 1:30 p.m. Campbell said he'll be there, too.

Alex Orlando can be reached at aorlando@tampabay.com.

Coin dealers, antique shops bristle at new Pasco ordinance 03/16/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 16, 2012 9:21pm]
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