Merchants want close look at business fee

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

July 8, 2006

The City of Hood River has dropped a provision for mandatory inspections in its business license proposal.

But some retailers and restaurateurs are still objecting to the added cost and regulations.

“Instead of calling it a business license we need to call it a tax because that’s what it is,” said Kurt Osborne from Sub Shop #15.

He argued against the necessity of the license at Thursday’s meeting of the Heights Business Association.

Osborne’s comments led Brian Shortt of Shortt Supply to suggest the issues be explored further in a larger venue. He thought the HBA, Hood River County Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Business Association should convene to discuss the pros and cons of the license.

“I guess I’d like to see a little more public discourse and dialogue to help the city in this deliberation,” said Shortt.

Bob Francis, city manager, told HBA members the city council had reset the public hearing on the license from Monday to Aug. 14. However, he also said that hearing could be postponed if necessary to give the three entities time to meet.

He said the city revised the original license proposal after objections were registered about the requirement for at least one annual site inspection. The cost for the first official visit to address security, structural or safety concerns would have been covered with the fee. If other visits were warranted, the business owner would have been asked to offset the expenses of staff time.

“It’s not going to be a mandatory program now. If you want an inspection we’ll come out and give you one,” said Francis.

The chamber is conducting a survey of city businesses to gauge the level of support for the license. The DBA has requested that the city provide a discount to its members that contribute to beautification projects and other events.

Shortt wanted the survey and DBA request reviewed in a joint meeting before the HBA took a stand.

Osborne said the initial $50 fee and $20 annual renewals were not high — but would most likely go up. He said local businesses were already contributing thousands each year to charitable causes and school activities. But that money might not be available if operating expenses climbed too high.

He said the Sub Shop’s overhead had already gone up several hundred dollars in the last four years due to new taxes and fees.

“If you need more revenue to overcome a city deficit then you need to go to another source — we’re getting hammered,” said Osborne.

Francis said the licensing cost would increase as needed to cover the costs of maintaining the data base. However, he said changes in fee schedules during spring budget hearings provided ample opportunity for citizen input.

“I appreciate your comment but I don’t think you’ll find the council raising this fee by leaps and bounds,” said Francis. “The council is very open to public participation.”

He said about 500 businesses were operating within the city limits — some in violation of zoning and sign codes.

By having the license, he said the city would be able to ensure that owners complied with existing codes.

Osborne argued that the license application gave the city recorder the right of denial. And creating an additional database was not necessary when there were tax records, building permits and other data already on file.

Francis said the provision for denial would most likely be applied, if ever, to new business. He said established services would not have a problem unless a change of use or location did not meet building or zoning requirements.

He agreed that a joint meeting between the chamber, DBA and HBA could be helpful. The HBA plans to set up that forum in the immediate future.

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