On Monday, November 14, Milford City Council held a public workshop to get input from citizens and business owners about implementing a business license in the City. The decision to consider adding a license began in March in the Community Affairs Committee, was discussed during budget hearings and returned to the Community Affairs Committee in June.
City Planner Rob Pierce presented a Power Point that explained that businesses in the City that required a license from the State of Delaware would be required to obtain a license from the City of Milford. New businesses would be required to obtain the license as of January 1, 2017, while existing businesses would be given until June 2017 to obtain the license.
“The fee for the application will be $120 per year,” Mr. Pierce said. “For existing businesses who do not apply until later, the fee will be $60 for half the year. The purpose of the license is to protect the business community and to enable Milford Police Department, City utilities or other first responders contact business owners in an emergency situation. There will be better enforcement of illegal activities and ensure that businesses comply with City ordinances. There will also be more opportunity for networking and exposure.
After Mr. Pierce’s presentation, the public was permitted to ask questions regarding the proposed ordinance which was presented in draft form. Randy Marvel of Marvel Agency said that he felt like each year new fees were added to the point that his office had dozens of licenses on the wall from various governmental agencies.
“In my office, I may have several agents working with customers,” Mr. Marvel said. “Does this mean each agent needs their own license? We already have the residential rental leasing fee and, so far, we have seen no benefit from that fee. What kind of benefit will we see from this one? What about home businesses? How about people who come into town to perform work but are not based here? These are all questions we need answered.”
Mr. Pierce said that the agency would need one license that would cover all agents who work for that company. He also agreed that the rental licensing fee, which was supposed to provide an additional code enforcer when it was implemented several year ago, had not been used as it should have been. Mr. Pierce said that one of the things that the fee would allow the City to do would be to hire an additional code enforcer, something the City was currently in the process of doing even without the fee in place. Mr. Marvel said that he was under the impression that was what the rental fee was designed to do.
“Right now, the ordinance would cover brick and mortar businesses,” Mr. Pierce said. “Home-based businesses, as long as customers did not actually visit the business, would not have to have a license. As long as the home-based business was not required to have a State of Delaware license, they would not have to obtain a Milford license.”
Emmett Vennett asked if seasonal workers could obtain a partial license since they may not work all year. He mentioned landscapers or people who mow lawns who may only work four or five months out of the year. Eric Norenberg, City Manager, said that the ordinance was still in the draft stages and all suggestions were welcome.
“I am concerned about fees that crop up out of budget discussions,” Craig Crouch said. “I am not really sure what businesses are getting from this. It seems to be a fee directed at people who follow the rules and I simply don’t see how it is going to help you or the business community.”
Mr. Pierce explained that there were times that a business could move to a new location that is not properly zoned. Because the business does not need a building permit, the zoning issue may not be discovered until the business has been in operation for some time. He said it is sometimes difficult to correct the violation retroactively” Mr. Pierce said that a business found without a valid Milford permit would be charged a fee of $100 per day and would be required to purchase the $120 permit.
Currently, many towns in Delaware charge a business license ranging in cost from $50 to $500 depending on the type of business. Mike Perfetti of Delaware Branding said that he had researched municipalities who currently had business licenses and learned that many are repealing them as they are deemed unfriendly to business.
City Solicitor, David Rutt, explained that the ordinance contained a Good Standing Clause that would require the business to be in good standing with the city in order to get or renew the license.
“If the business is behind on taxes or utilities, the application can be denied,” Mr. Rutt said. “This could essentially shut the business down until they bring accounts with the City current and you would be surprised how that can benefit the City in collecting past due balances. The wording in this draft needs some rewording, but this would prevent businesses who are in good standing from covering those that are not paying their bills.” Ramsay Schrader of Arena’s asked what would happen to the business owner if it is a landlord that is behind in taxes. Mr. Norenberg said that is something that would need to be addressed in the ordinance as well.
Councilman Jamie Burk asked Mr. Norenberg if the City could hire the code enforcement officer without the additional fee. Mr. Norenberg said that he would speak to the City’s Chief Financial Officer and provide that information to the Community Affairs Committee. Councilwoman Lisa Peel told all in attendance that she chaired the Community Affairs Committee and that she had taken notes throughout the public comments. She said that the committee would take into consideration all the concerns expressed at their next meeting.
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