Posts tagged ‘PO’

People Without a Country

I have written a number of times about the growing ranks of RVers who have completely abandoned a permanent address and spend their entire life on the road.  I know these folks because I hire about 400 of them every summer to run our campgrounds and recreational facilities.  It is a fascinating subculture, that in some ways mirrors the habits of a great nomadic tribe that roams all over the country but comes together in a few camps to meet and interact in the winter (e.g. Colorado River between Yuma and Quartzite).  The numbers are large:

The Census says more than 105,000 Americans live full-time in RVs,
boats or vans, though one RV group says the number is more like half a
million. Because of their nomadic ways, pinning down their number with
any certainty is difficult.

The AP has an article about how difficult it is becoming for some of these folks to vote, since a number of states are beginning to require a permanent physical address  (most of these folks have PO Boxes run by companies that forward their mail).

A total of 286 people who live full-time in their recreational vehicles
were dropped from the voter rolls in one Tennessee county over the past
two years because they did not have a genuine home address, only a
mailbox. That has left them unable to vote in national or local

But some elections officials say that voters should have a real
connection to the place where they are casting ballots, and that RVers
are registering in certain states simply to avoid taxes. Some of them
rarely, if ever, set foot in those states.

I guess they need a real connection to their state, kind of like, say, Hillary Clinton had to New York when she ran for the Senate there.  I know that the immediate reaction from many of you may be that this is
somehow weird and, being weird, it is OK to lock them out of voting.
But I can attest these folks are all quite normal people who are
seduced by the ability to live anywhere they want, on the spur of the
moment, and who revel in being able to simplify their life enough to
fit all their worldly goods into an RV and hit the road.

This part is total BS:

David Ellis, the former Bradley County Election Commission director who
started removing full-time RVers, said they have no connection to the
area and are simply "dodging their responsibility to pay their fair
share" of taxes.

RVers pay taxes in the states in which they work, not in their home state  (just like everyone else, by the way).  RVers, who rent their living site, pay the same property taxes (ie zero) that any other renter pays.

For the record, none of my folks have reported a problem.  However, these problems are just going to get worse.  Crackdowns both on illegal immigration and hypothesized terrorism are making more difficult to complete any number of basic tasks, like banking, without a permanent physical address.

OK, the Post Office Still Sucks

I had been lulled into thinking maybe the US Postal Service was modernizing, but I was wrong.  I have a PO Box in Colorado where I have my mail for our business forwarded to our Phoenix office for the winter months.  However, there is apparently absolutely no way to have all the mail coming to that box forwarded.  It can only be forwarded by name.  So, if I have 7 business names and 12 employees with mail in that box, I have to submit 19 change of address cards.  And, if anyone makes a typo in mailing to one of these 19 names, it won't get forwarded - only if the letter is addressed to the name exactly as it is written in the change of address card will it get to me.  Anyone want to guess how often that happens?

Whats on My Desk

The original purpose of this blog was to pass on my experiences and lessons-learned running a small business.  Over time, though, since I have the attention span of an 8-year-old boy mainlining Hershey bars, I have gone many different places with this blog, well beyond day-to-day experience of a small business.

However, today I will return to this original goal, at least for one post, by asking the question "what's on my desk this morning?"  I tackle this question for two reasons.  First, it is interesting to compare how different the issues I struggle with day-to-day are as compared to my previous life as an executive at several Fortune 50 companies.  I am sure I did more, but all I can remember from my daily activities at large companies seems to involve either working on PowerPoint presentations or traveling to give them to somebody.  The second reason for visiting the contents of my desk is to reinforce my usual libertarian political points, which I think will be made sufficiently obvious just in the description of my to-do list that I won't need to editorialize further.

So here is what's got to get done today [ed note -- while published on Sunday, this is based on my worklist on Friday morning, May 13.]

  • Sales tax returns have to be completed, which I usually do myself.  We file monthly returns in six states, but one of those is Florida, where we have to file multiple returns county by county.  This month I also must complete a lodging tax return for two counties.  If it was the end of the quarter, an additional three state returns and two county returns would be due.
  • We are nearly completed with a sales tax audit from Washington state.  I have written before how complicated the WA sales tax return is, but the funny part was seeing a trained tax accountant from the state of Washington sit in my office for nearly 6 hours and still not be able to figure out how much tax I owed.  She kept encountering crazy exceptions like "such-and-such county requires 2% lodging tax unless the facility has more than 63 rooms or campsites and then it owes 50 cents per room-night except if it is in the Seattle convention district where it owes an additional .25% or if it is on a metro bus line where ... etc."  When tax law is too complicated for the paid employees of the tax department to figure out, it is too complicated.  Wonder of wonders, though, we may get a refund!
  • Also sitting on my desk from Washington is a notice that I did not pay my leasehold excise tax last year.  For those who don't know what that is, it is a way that states like WA and CA effectively charge property tax on the US government, evading the federal rules against such (basically, I have to pay the tax for the Feds, and then I take it out of the rent I bid to the Feds).  Actually, though, I did pay it.  Well in advance of the due date.  The state has spent the last 2 weeks trying to decipher their own records, and so I need to call them back today to see if they have figured everything out yet.
  • The department of Health in one California county is holding up my building approval because the condensate line from a refrigerator condenser coil runs out and drips fresh water on the ground (about a gallon a day).  If you have an air-conditioning system at your home, it is very very likely your air conditioning condenser does the same thing.  Unfortunately, the county wants this to run into the sewage system.  Why the county wants extra load on the sewer system, I don't know, but fortunately my builder caught this early so the change won't cost us much money.
  • Speaking of inspections, the ADA inspector at another California facility ruled yesterday that our sales counter was an inch too high and our ramp a half-degree too steep to the front door, so I spent part of this morning already getting the original contractor out there to tear these improvements out and redo them.  Interestingly, we previously had the bathroom that was originally in this modular building ripped out, because it could not be made ADA compliant.  This was not a big headache for our employees, because there is a public bathroom building next door.  However, the local health inspector is now reluctant to approve the building because... it has no bathroom and hand-wash sink.  The only food we sell is packaged (think Twinkies) but some health inspectors still want you to follow the same requirements as if you were a restaurant.  I am not sure how we are going to resolve this.
  • I just got a call from a customer who was mad that the county Sheriff would not respond to several complaints about drunk and disorderly conduct in the early morning hours at one of our campgrounds.  A few of our campgrounds, like this one, are too small to justify a live-on-site staff, and the rowdies seem to get the word out which campgrounds do not have on-site security.  I promised the customer a refund, and made a note to myself to talk to our manager about having one of our employees come by a few times in the night on a security sweep.
  • I have a meeting at 3:00 to meet with my accountant to finish up our income taxes.  Since we have to file a federal, 9 state, and a number of county tax returns, our total company return fills two 3-inch binders.   Today we are trying to sort out the depreciation schedule, which in and of itself is hundreds of pages long given that we have so many small assets.
  • We are still trying to get a liquor license approved for our store on Lake Havasu.  The whole liquor license process is one of those funny holdovers.  Coming out of prohibition, most states wrote tough procedures to make sure that the organized crime figures who control liquor during prohibition did not receive licenses.  As a result, to get a license, my wife and I and my managers have to be finger-printed and have FBI background checks.  The applications tend to be long and tedious and small errors cause the application to be returned for corrections. Worse, though, I have found that many towns use the licensing process as an anti-competitive protection for incumbents.  In California, if a County is "over its limit" (set fairly arbitrarily) in terms of licenses, it requires the county board of supervisors to meet and approve the new license.  In one California county I was told that this was really for my protection - they are protecting me from getting my business in a situation where I might fail due to too much competition.  Anyway, I suspect that the strong powers-that-be in Lake Havasu City may be holding up our license, and I need to try to figure out what is going on,though I am not sure how to go about it.
  • While I have been writing this, I got a call from a county DA in Arizona.  Most states have bad check programs where, if you have a bounced check and can't collect, you turn it over to the courts and they seek collection.  In extreme cases, they will arrest and try the offender.  I have never been entirely comfortable with this situation.  Sure, bounced checks irritate the heck out of me, but arresting people for a $20 bounced check feels like sending someone to a Victorian debtors prison.  This morning, I spent about 30 minutes trying to talk the DA out of prosecuting the heck out of some guy who claims that he paid us and we lost his check.  I give his story about a 30% possibility, but whatever is the case I have no desire to prosecute the guy.  The DA's blood is up, so it takes me a while to talk him out of it.  I am adding to my worklist something I have put off for a while, which is to investigate 3rd party NSF check collection. 
  • My bank just called and still needs yet more paperwork before they can complete an equipment financial loan.  AAARRRRGGGG. 
  • I just finished my annual rant with Arizona Game and Fish about fishing licenses.  We sell fishing licenses at a number of locations.  We only sell fishing licenses, we don't sell hunting licenses or duck stamps or all kinds of other special licenses that the state seems to sell.  Unfortunately, if you are a Game and Fish registered license seller, you can't get just fishing license inventory from them.  You have to take their full range of licenses, which they send you piles of in January.  We take all this stuff we don't want to sell and put it in the safe, and hope that we can keep track of it for the next 12 months.  If we somehow misplace anything and don't return it the following year, we pay for it (and some of those stamps and licenses cost hundreds of dollars).  Many of you  will recognize that this practice of the state government would in many situations be illegal for a private company.  There are many laws out there that limit a manufacturers ability to force a retailer to carry their full line of inventory, or worse, their ability to send the stores a bunch of inventory they did not order.
  • I have been putting off registering our 15+ trucks in Washington, but I am going to have to get to it today or this weekend.  Last year Washington passed a law that vehicles had to be registered with an in-state physical address (no PO Box).  I am not sure if this is a tax or terrorism thing, but it is obviously awkward for an out of state corporation, so they have finally relented a bit and said that you can still have to have an in-state physical address but they will mail paperwork to an out of state address.  I or my assistant will need to spend a couple of hours soon typing in two addresses each on all these vehicles before we can register them.

There are a million other things going on, but that is what is burning me up today.  In fact, since I have been spending the last hour writing this post, these tasks will probably also be occupying me this weekend.  An alien from another planet in reading this post might question whether I am really working for myself or this "government" entity.

New American Nomads

Every year, between November and January, tens of thousands of modern nomads descend on the lower Colorado River.Spread out from Yuma to Lake Havasu City, but with their center in the normally small town of Quartzite Arizona, RVers will join together for a month or two in the Arizona desert.  Barren fields alont Interstate 10, totally desolate and empty for 9 months of the year, suddenly become a huge encampment.

One of the little talked about trends within the larger story of the aging of America and the growing population of retired people is the substantial number of people who have given up the traditional notion of a fixed home and neighborhood and headed for the open road. While some still own a home, and travel for many months of the year, an increasing number have sold their home, bought an RV, and live on the road -- with absolutely no attachment to any fixed location. They may spend a day or several months in any one location, but most tend to drift north during the summer and back south for the winter.  These are not people who take their RV out on vacation -- these are people who live on the road 365 days a year.

For reasons of weather and tradition, while you can find RVers in the summer months in every state, in the winter months a large number will converge on Quartzite. Friendships will be renewed. Business will be transacted. Jobs for the summer months will be solicited. A thousand and one vendors will pitch a tent in the desert to sell their wares. These gatherings remind me of how the old western trading posts may have looked during the winter, surrounded by wintering Indians and trappers. The only difference today is that most of the nomads are Caucasian, and many of the trading posts, in the form of Casinos, are run by the Indians.

Some of these new nomads are able to completely retire and live off their savings. Others need to work to bring in a bit of cash, or at least to pay for a place to park and hook up their RV to utilities. In our business, we hire over 400 of these folks a year, usually working the summer months in exchange for a free site for the RV and some money for relaxing in the winter. RVers are generally comfortable with fairly modest pay, but they won't stand still for very long if they don't like the job or their boss or their co-workers. After all, they all have wheels on their houses and can leave with little notice.

As you might imagine, in this Federalist country we live in where most government services occur at the state level, this nomadic lifestyle can lead to confusion. If you spend the entire year traveling around the country, where is your voting precinct? Where do friends send you mail? How do you get bills? Where is your bank? In which state do you pay taxes? If you think you have trouble getting W-2's out to your employees, trying tracking down 400 nomads with no permanent address!

To a large extent, technology has helped solve a number of these problems over the last decade. Cell phones provide telephone service nearly everywhere in the country. DirecTV does the same for television. With a national ISP like EarthLink or AOL, email doesn't care where you RV is parked "“ it will get to you.

In addition, a whole cottage industry has arisen to serve the needs of full-time RVers. Despite advances in technology, most people still need an address for the mail to go, and the IRS still is kindof fussy about having a mailing address for folks. So, entrepreneurs, mainly in Texas and Florida, have created huge PO box operations to serve RVers, with flexible options for holding or forwarding mail. Full-time RVers, living 365 days in their vehicle, have demanded and gotten larger and more elaborate RV's from manufacturers, up to and including RV's built on bus frames. And, new, more elaborate and upscale RV parks are being built to accommodate the more affluent new RVers.

Other people, including, predictably, the government, have not caught up with this trend. For example, many RVers are living on retirement and social security payments. Most state revenue departments have laws in place that if you are a resident of that state for some number of days, then you have to pay income taxes on earnings, even retirement pay or investment earnings, in proportion to the time spent in the state. These laws are mainly put in place to snare some incremental taxes from wealthy athletes and traveling sales people, but they can can hurt RVers.

An RVer who is totally honest about the states they were a resident in during a year might end up having to fill out five, six, or more state income tax returns. No one wants to do that, especially for small sums, so very very few people observe these tax laws. In fact, that is why PO Box drops are in Texas and Florida, because neither have state income taxes. Their pension and investment and social security checks go to those states, and no one has to be any the wiser about what other states they may have parked their RV in for a while.

There are a number of places to get more information about full-time RVing. Web sites and magazines line the Roaming Times and Trailer Life cater to full-time RVers. Working RVers can find information about work camping jobs and camp hosting as well as the whole workamping lifestyle.  Finally, look for good places to camp at, at ReserveUSA, or of course at my company's directory of forest service campgrounds.