Published: April 7, 2009
As the antiquing phenomenon known as Brimfield gets ready to observe a “golden” anniversary, six of the event’s promoters are suing the town, claiming that they are being taxed illegally for emergency services provided by the town.
A lawsuit filed in Hampden Superior Court on March 25 petitions the court to not only invalidate the fee going forward, but also seeks to recover the assessments going back to 2004.
Back in February, the town of Brimfield, which is the epicenter of the thrice-annual pilgrimage by thousands of antiquers, offered a “recessionista” solution to controlling costs borne by the show promoters. At a Board of Selectmen meeting, the town approved a reduction of hours to be worked by its police, firefighters and ambulance crews. The move was characterized by Selectman Thomas C. Marino as a way to right-size the emergency services coverage so that safety and security would be preserved during the shows, but costs would be reduced.
“Several of the flea market operators thought the fees were excessive,” Marino told The Republican. We took a closer look at it,” Marino said. “The flea market has not had the attendance that they did in the past.”
In their suit, however, the six Brimfield promoters †Mahogany Ridge, Central Park, Shelton’s, Sturtevant’s, The Meadows and New England Motel †claimed, “Brimfield uses the emergency services fee for each flea market session as a general revenue-raising device for Brimfield since all costs related to each flea market session are recovered through the vendor permit fees, making the emergency service fees unnecessary.”
The town defines the emergency services fees as comprising police and fire department wages, ambulance services, fuel for public safety vehicles, no parking signs, the flea market coordinator’s salary, insurance and other related costs.
The Brimfield Antiques Markets set up for business along Route 20 every year for three weeks, one in May, one in July and one in September. Each show runs six consecutive days. One field’s promoter, Lois Shelton, calculated that it cost each dealer $67 in such fees to set up in her field for the six days. This fee gets added on top of annual licenses that each promoter must pay and the vendor permits, which range from $20 to $30 and are collected from each dealer by the promoter and passed onto the town.
“In this economic environment, we just can’t afford to be paying unnecessary fees,” said Shelton.
According to the suit, there were 5,617 vendor permits issued in 2008, with the town collecting $168,510. Emergency services costs (which the town uses to calculate the fee) totaled $146,443.13, which left the town with a $22,066 “profit.” The town of Brimfield then assessed market owners for an additional $144,501.55 in 2008 for emergency services fees. The suit stated that the costs to the town for providing these services were “already recovered in full by Brimfield through imposition and collection of fees for the vendor permits.”
“The emergency service fees collected by Brimfield are invalid as an illegal tax,” the suit concluded.
If the court does see it that way, it could bring a serious financial hit to the town. According to the court document, Brimfield brought in more than $775,000 in vendor permit fees between 2004 and 2008. Over the same period, it collected more than $568,000 in emergency services fees. Its actual emergency costs emergency costs totaled $576,480.
Both Shelton and another promoter, Marie Doldoorian, owner of New England Motel, said they are fairly sanguine about prevailing in their quest to stop further imposition of the tax. They base their optimism on a letter sent to the Brimfield town clerk in September 2007 by the state attorney general’s office cautioning the town against imposing emergency services fees that “&†exceed the limits imposed on local government by the Constitution and the statutes of the Commonwealth.”
“We just need to know, and get a ruling one way or the other,” said Shelton.