by Terry Rogers
On August 26, Milford City Council authorized City Planner Rob Pierce to develop an ordinance that would require business licenses in the City. This was based on a request from Chief of Police Kenneth Brown, whose officers have expressed challenges to contacting business owners when interaction is needed between the two entities.
“We don’t have up-to-date information available all the time when something happens at a business that requires the police to go out and investigate,” Chief Brown said. “For example, we allow for three false alarms at a business. When a fourth false alarm occurs, the business is sent a fine. When we don’t have updated business information, we could send a bill to a business who has actually only had one false alarm. If there is an emergency, we don’t always have the information we need to reach the right person for a business.”
Pierce presented Council with information he compiled after reaching out to other towns in Delaware. At the present time, Milford and Seaford are the only towns that do not have a business license ordinance. Mayor Archie Campbell said that Seaford was in the process of implementing one. Pierce explained that the town of Elsmere has the highest price for business licenses at $150 while the lowest was Millsboro with a $20 license fee.
“Assuming there are 500 businesses in the City, staff estimates an annual cost of $15,000 to administer the program,” Pierce said. “This is broken down by $1,000 for software, $1,000 for materials like notices, licenses and postage, $5,000 in administrative costs like renewals and processing plus $8,000 for monitoring. Based on these figures, the license fee would need to be established at a minimum of $30 per year to cover expenses.”
Councilman Jason James commented that he did not feel the license should be a revenue generator and should be implemented in the interest of safety. Pierce explained that some municipalities based the license fee on the size of the business and the number of employees. Councilman James did not feel there should be a graduated fee based on size, but a set fee that would simply cover the cost.
“This is a regulation on business and we want Milford to be business-friendly,” Councilman Todd Culotta said. “I am not sure this will be viewed as business-friendly. We have all of this information already with our utility bills. I am not sure we need to implement another fee for businesses.” City Solicitor David Rutt explained that the state has laws regarding who may see information in utility bills as some may include medical information related to equipment in the home.
“I have an office in Georgetown,” Solicitor Rutt said. “I pay four licenses for that office. The information is used by the police and the fire department by letting them know who owns the property, if there are any other businesses in the building and who is may be using the property.”
Councilwoman Katrina Wilson made the recommendation that Pierce be authorized to develop the ordinance with a $30 license fee to cover costs. Councilman Mike Boyle suggested that the fee be raised to $35 to cover any unexpected costs that may arise. Councilman Culotta and Councilman Doug Morrow both suggested dropping the fee to $20 to match the lowest fee charged in the state although this amount would not cover the administrative costs of the license.
“I think $30 or $35 still leaves us as pro- business,” Councilman James said. “I definitely don’t want to regulate business but this is a request from our Chief of Police for safety reasons. I think when our chief safety officer suggests something that may help him do his job, we need to listen.” Pierce pointed out that the City currently charges a licensing fee for contractors and transient businesses, which include food trucks. Contractors pay $100 while transient businesses pay $50 per year.
Council voted 6 to 2 to move forward with the drafting of an ordinance. Councilmen Culotta and Morrow were the only no votes as they felt the fee should be no higher than $20. There will be a public hearing where members of the community can express their views on the business license before the ordinance is adopted.
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