NEW PORT RICHEY — Facing a fierce band of antique shop owners, coin traders and gold dealers, commissioners on Tuesday backtracked on new rules to help sheriff's deputies track down stolen goods.
The ordinance requires all secondhand dealers to hold gold, jewelry and other valuable items for 30 days and provide a description and photograph of the items to law enforcement.
Roughly 30 dealers protested the rules they said were passed with little discussion and would swamp small businesses with bureaucracy.
"There was no advanced notice that the ordinance was to be proposed," said Betty Burke, owner of Park Place Antiques in San Antonio. "It will be impossible for antique dealers to comply, either financially or time-wise."
Several coin dealers warned of the logistical nightmare of photographing every coin they buy, especially those in large collections. And gold dealers, who currently must hold items for 15 days, said the 30-day holding period was unacceptable. Since gold prices fluctuate so much, they said, that might force them to offer lower prices for customers.
"It puts an undue burden on these businesses," said Trevor Campbell, a Wesley Chapel gold dealer who has been particularly active in organizing opposition to the new rules.
Commissioners initially proposed hosting a workshop next month to discuss the ordinance and hash out possible tweaks. But Jeremiah Hawkes, an attorney in Sheriff Chris Nocco's office, said his boss would support striking the rules and starting over.
"If the board is more comfortable withdrawing the ordinance now and coming back at a later time, the sheriff would support this," he said. "The sheriff does not want to put the board in an uncomfortable position."
Hawkes said it wasn't the sheriff's intent to focus on antique dealers. He said holding back on new rules would allow the sheriff's office to educate owners about current law and the proposed changes.
Earlier Tuesday, Nocco said he would accept the commissioners' decision but that he thinks the ordinance is key to helping return stolen goods to their owners.
"I don't ever want to get in a position where the sheriff's office is in an all-out fight with the county commission," Nocco said. "We can work with the businesses, but we can never forget the silent voices of the victims."
After Hawkes spoke, commissioners unanimously directed Pasco County attorney Jeff Steinsnyder to draft a new ordinance to repeal the secondhand dealer rules. That ordinance will be considered at the April 24 meeting in New Port Richey.
The move prompted a round of applause from the gold dealers and antique shop owners who had said they would accept nothing short of full repeal.
"If we don't do something drastic, they're just not going to trust that we'll do the right thing," Commissioner Ted Schrader said.
The resolution came after a tense meeting that at times got heated.
Matthew Ramer, a former sheriff's deputy who is now an auctioneer, got into an argument with Commissioner Pat Mulieri as he accused her of not reviewing the ordinance closely enough when it was initially passed.
"So, somebody apologizes to you and you get angry at me?" Mulieri said.
"Apologize to me by taking it and putting it in a shredder," he replied. "We entrust you county commissioners and county officials to look after our best interests."
After a brief back-and-forth, Mulieri said, "Why don't you stick to the issue and stop insulting people?"
Later, Commissioner Jack Mariano called for a full repeal. "Hearing that the state is already regulating this, I don't see why we have to put any more government on it," he said to applause and cheers.
Staff writer Alex Orlando contributed to this report. Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.