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Businessman challenges his non-profit competition
by Jill Lufrano
May 15, 2012 | 1367 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Dan McGee
Tom Noblett appeared before the city council Monday to explain that, while he pays for a business license, there is a non-profit charity that is cutting into his hauling operation. His point was that they can operate for free in the city. During his talk he said that if he loses a few more customers he'll have to be down the block seeking food stamps. The council is going to have staff look into the situation.
Tribune/Dan McGee Tom Noblett appeared before the city council Monday to explain that, while he pays for a business license, there is a non-profit charity that is cutting into his hauling operation. His point was that they can operate for free in the city. During his talk he said that if he loses a few more customers he'll have to be down the block seeking food stamps. The council is going to have staff look into the situation.
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SPARKS — Tom Noblett of Tom’s Hauling and Clean Up has been picking up recyclables and cashing them in for profit for the past 22 years. At the peak of his business, he had 119 stops. Though his business has whittled down to 17, the cardboard and other recyclable materials he hauls away from the few restaurants and businesses left on his route have kept him going.

The plain-speaking man in a plaid shirt and hat is what many might call a “straight-talker.” He doesn’t hold his customers to contracts and still does business with a handshake and a smile.

But in the past few years, he says, he’s been blindsided by a trend that he finds disturbing and possibly illegal. On Monday, Noblett asked the Sparks City Council to review city business ordinances to determine whether non-profit organizations can collect recyclables from industrial, restaurant and retail businesses and sell those recyclables without a city license. The non-profits have already taken five of his clients, he said, and he can’t afford even one more takeover.

“I have big problems,” Noblett told council members. “One problem is taxation. I pay taxes and I’m damn proud of my county. I’m proud of this city. It hasn’t been built by charity organizations at all. If I lose one more business I’m out of business and I’m in the bread line.”

According to a review of city ordinances dealing with recyclables, all businesses must have a license, except non-profit organizations. One part of the municipal code dealing with recyclables states that franchises can donate to charitable organizations and non-profits are exempt from paying any taxes to the city for this donation.

“In a way, I can’t blame ‘em,” Noblett said after the meeting. “In another way, I feel they really owe me. I’ve been buying a business license for 20 years.”

Noblett said he had no luck contacting The Salvation Army, one organization with a crew of trucks picking up cardboard — which is valuable in today’s market — at industrial sites. He asked the city to write or talk to the organization and simply ask them “where they were going with this.”

If a non-profit can step boldly into Noblett’s business without fear of squashing him without having to pay for licensing or taxes, then what else could they do, he asked.

“They could step into another business and they could go into anything,” he said. “They are now expanding. This city don’t get a dime in taxes. We need to find out where they’re going with this.

“I think it’s totally unfair now.”

During the last 12 years, Noblett said, he has caught poachers and other folks trying to get in on the trade, but he’s never had to deal with big business such as this.

“My business is not very easy but I do manage to make it,” he said. “They take one more account, I’m in the bread line. I’m on food stamps.”

Some council members agreed that non-profits are allowed to do business and play by different rules than for-profit businesses within the city. Non-profit organizations are not inspected, there is no oversight and they are not required to register for licensing purposes.

It is estimated that Sparks has 300 non-profit organizations within city limits.

One councilman said it was probably not a wise move to challenge the non-profits and bring about a lot of issues.

“I do understand what you’re saying,” Councilman Ron Schmitt said. “If we try to do anything for your business, it affects everybody in town. I get everything you’re saying, I just don’t think we should change the rules.”

In the end, the City Council took no action on the matter.
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