Salt Lake City leaders are taking aim at payday lenders, but they aren't quite ready to pull the trigger.
The City Council and planning officials spent about an hour Tuesday discussing options for limiting where and how payday loan businesses can operate in the city. The discussion ended with council consensus that more study is needed before action including a moratorium on such businesses should be taken.
"I think (a moratorium) would be putting a band-aid on the situation," said JT Martin, the council's strongest voice of opposition to payday lenders.
The first-year councilman said he wants the city do more to limit payday lenders than simply restrict them by zoning and density ordinances. Martin said the way such businesses are allowed to do business also needs to be explored.
"As a small-business person, I respect and understand the right of a free economy, and folks should be able to do business as they please," said Martin, who owns Emigration Market. "But there are times when a line is crossed, and this is one of them."
Critics of payday lenders say the businesses are predatory against low-income people, seniors and minorities. The companies offer small cash advances usually between $100 and $500 with no credit checks. The loans carry high annual interest rates that in Utah average 521 percent, about $20 on the biweekly payments on a $100 loan.
Ten cities in Salt Lake County have density or zoning restrictions on payday lenders. Last year, Salt Lake County passed a moratorium to keep new payday lenders from opening until an ordinance can be put in place. The county moratorium has ended, but an ordinance is expected as soon as this month.
Salt Lake City leaders are reluctant to impose a moratorium because a recent audit of the city's troubled planning division strongly recommended against using them. Planners often are forced to produce ordinances that have not been fully vetted to meet the six-month moratorium deadline, city officials said.
A timeline created by city staff shows that the process of limiting payday lenders by ordinance would take about eight months.
The City Council also instructed city attorneys to look at federal and state regulations on payday lenders to see if there are any options for the city to place restrictions on their business practices.
"I want to see us do a very comprehensive restructuring of how these folks do business and where they do business," Martin said, suggesting that a council subcommittee be formed to specifically address the issue.
At least 24 payday lenders operate in Salt Lake City, according to city planners.
In 2005, West Valley City became the first Utah city to limit payday lenders, requiring 600 feet between such outlets and allowing only one per 10,000 residents. Other Salt Lake County cities limiting payday lenders are Cottonwood Heights, Draper, Midvale, Murray, Sandy, South Salt Lake, South Jordan, Taylorsville and West Jordan.Orem and American Fork in Utah County also have such ordinances in place.
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