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September 24, 2018   
Changing The Political Landscape  March 16, 2007

In Visalia, Calif. tax-paying landscapers are angry that unlicensed landscapers are taking competition away. So as the busy spring season rolls around they are organizing themselves to create a change in a different kind of landscape – the political landscape.

Vincent Huerta, has owned a smaller business Lawncrafters for two years and has five employees. He reports losing five accounts – down to 45 from 50.
“I’ve never seen it this bad,” said Huerta, who attributes the surge of “unofficial” yardworkers to the January freeze that threw citrus-industry employees out of work.

“I placed an ad in January for employees and got 45 applicants,” said Huerta, who still upholds that landscaping professionals should obey the laws and pay their taxes despite hard working conditions.

The owner of Greenscape Industries, Carol Wallen, reported a net loss of 60 accounts so far this year, down to 524, and has up to 30 employees working these accounts daily. She credits her a majority of her loss to unlicensed individuals and groups taking her business.

“We have to pay workers’ compensation insurance, which runs us around $3,000 a month and it used to be as high as $6,000 [monthly], said Wallen. “We also take out the Social Security and taxes, state and federal.”
However, the unlicensed yard maintenance crews do not pay any of these expenses, she says.

“They can charge 50 percent less,” Wallen said, “and that’s illegal.”
Huerta, Wallen and others are determined to gain the Visalia City Council’s attention at a recent meeting, but city business license coordinator Carolyn Shook is uncertain how to properly enforce such guidelines.

“There are too many [yard workers] to keep track of,” said Shook, who adds that the city of Visalia does require a business-tax form to be submitted to the city from any person wanting to trim lawns and do other yard work.
“It’s for tax purposes only, and not a license,” said Shook. “Licensing that kind of work is a state responsibility.”

The city asks that all yard workers and companies pay $1 for each $1,000 they earn. That’s normally not a lot for most operators, but Wallen said that Greenscape Industries averages about $158 per quarter on the city’s business tax alone.

Wallen also adds that customers who ask for a business license from prospective maintenance workers will wrongly think the city’s business tax certificate is all they need.

“It’s not enough,” states Wallen. “They need to show they pay workers’ compensation and have liability insurance.”

Most “gardeners,” as Huerta calls landscapers, can easily identify the dishonest operators.

“Three of them can take three lawn mowers, jump out of their truck and finish a job in 10 minutes and make $80 on something I would have to charge $180 for,” Huerta said.

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