PORTLAND — Operating a flea market in the city just got a little easier.

The City Council decided Monday to lower the fees for flea market operators and sellers.

The changes reduced the licensing fee for flea market operators to $225 a year, from $50 a day, and reduced the annual fee for individual sellers to $20, by eliminating a $35 administrative fee.

Erin Kiley and Nathaniel Baldwin, owners of the Flea for All in Bayside, sought the changes.

Kiley said the fees were prohibitive to owners and sellers. Flea for All has already paid more than $1,000 since it opened in February, she said, and sellers were wary of paying the administrative fees for licenses in an untested market.

Councilors largely supported the changes, with the exception of Jill Duson, who serves on the council’s Public Safety and Health and Human Services Committee, which vetted the proposal.

Duson unsuccessfully objected to eliminating the $35 administrative fee for sellers. “There are administrative costs to setting up in the first instance of a business,” she said.

Duson said the last-minute amendment to the proposal reflected lobbying by Flea For All’s owners, who otherwise won all the changes they sought. She feared it would set a dangerous precedent.

During the committee meeting, she said, “The debate inappropriately allowed the city clerk’s staff to be, in my opinion, bullied and castigated.” The clerk’s office handles licensing for the city.

“If we pass this … what we really do is endorse beating up the clerk’s office after the committee conversation,” Duson said.

After the meeting, Kiley would not comment on being accused of bullying the clerk’s office.

“We’re very pleased with the thoughtful debate,” she said. “The decision by the council has put us in a place where we can operate sustainably.”

Chris O’Neil, the Portland Community Chamber’s liaison to City Hall, criticized the city for its unwillingness to work with the business right from the start. Councilor Edward Suslovic, the committee chairman, responded by saying the changes best represent both the business interest and the public interest.

The changes allow police to place a hold for as long as 90 days on items that are believed to be stolen – whether at a flea market, a pawn shop or any other secondhand dealer. Any item that is proven to be stolen may be confiscated without compensation.

Before the meeting, police Sgt. Dean Goodale said the change essentially codified what was common practice.

Goodale said the city is increasing its efforts to get pawn brokers and secondhand dealers to comply with a 2008 ordinance change requiring them to report the items they purchase and from whom they are purchased.

Goodale said only a half-dozen of the city’s 29 secondhand dealers comply. He said the department is developing a computer program, which it hopes to roll out this fall, to assist dealers.

“It’s time to get everyone on board,” said Goodale. He said there will not be any major enforcement efforts.

Also Monday, the council decided to propose a city charter change to voters in November, to ensure that there’s an election for an at-large City Council seat every year.

The change would create a four-year term for one of the two at-large seats that will be open in 2013.

After 2017, the seat would revert to a three-year term.

Without the change to stagger the terms, there would be an election every three years without an open at-large seat. Three of the eight councilors are elected at-large.

Although he supported the spirit of the change, Councilor Nicholas Mavodones voted against it, saying council terms should be only three years.

He faulted the charter commission for letting the issue slip through the cracks when it wrote the city charter in 2010 and designated one at-large council seat for the elected mayor.

The council also accepted $53,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Emergency Solutions Grant Program. The money will be used to prevent homelessness by assisting with security deposits, rental application fees, utility deposits and overdue fees.

Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: [email protected]