by Terry Rogers
On Monday, October 14, Milford City Council approved a $30 business license that would take effect January 1, 2020 for any new business opening in the City. Current businesses would be phased in over time starting in 2020.
“This has been discussed a few times,” Rob Pierce, City Planner, said. “At the request of the Chief of Police, Council instructed staff to review what it would cost to implement a business license in the city. It was determined that administrative costs would be $30 per license which is the second lowest in the state based on a survey we conducted of similar municipalities.”
Chief Kenneth Brown has explained to Council at past meetings that the first responders often do not have up-to-date information when something happens at a business. Because of privacy laws, the police and fire company are not permitted to get data from utility bills which means they have no way of knowing who to contact should there be an incident at a local business. Councilman Todd Culotta pointed out that the new code did not have language that indicated the business license was added to assist the police.
“I don’t necessarily agree with adding a business license but I do see that many other cities have them,” Councilman Culotta said. “I get that it was requested by the police and that language needs to be added. I also am questioning the part that says each branch of a business must have a separate license. Why is that necessary?” City Solicitor David Rutt explained that the ordinance did have a section that referred to reasons of safety for the license which would mean police.
Pierce explained that just because a company has two branches of their business in Milford, the contact and emergency information may be different. Using Royal Farms as an example, Pierce explained that there may be a totally different manager or contact people in an emergency at one location than at another. Chief Brown also pointed out that there are some large businesses that may be franchises which means completely different owners. Councilman Owen Brooks asked why the fee had to be $30 instead of $20, matching the lowest business license fee in the state.
“Our estimate based on what would be necessary to set up and administer the program was that it would cost us around $30 per year per license,” Pierce said. “We would not be using this as a revenue stream. The fee would solely be to recover the City’s costs.”
Councilman Jason James pointed out that the fee for the license had already been discussed and approved by Council.
“The recommendation in our instructions was for $30,” Councilman James said. “This would not be for any type of profit but only to get back what it cost us to implement. If we did not like the estimate or the way the estimate was determined, that is a totally different thing. The fact is, we have been told this will cost us $30 to administer this. I think it is only right to all our taxpayers that we at least recover our costs. This information is needed by the police department. Even though the same info might be on utility bills, they cannot get it due to privacy laws. They need to be sure they have the right person to reach in an emergency. This is necessary in the interest of public safety.”
City Manager Eric Norenberg told Council that there is currently no requirement for a business to provide changes in staff, phone numbers or any other information that are critical for police and fire officials in an emergency. Because the license will be renewed annually, the information should remain current. Councilman Culotta pointed out that even though this may help the police, it really benefits the City, not the business, suggesting that the City should “eat the $10” and charge just $20 in order to appear more business-friendly.
“We provide an atmosphere that will help business grow,” Councilman Michael Boyle said. “This is absolutely not a deterrent to business locating here. It is only $30 but it allows the City to better control the guys who are not good players because we can suspend the business license for repeat offenders. We are not looking to make money, just to have some control. I don’t feel we should ask taxpayers who do not own a business to pay the additional $10 when we can simply charge the business what it costs us.”
Councilman Brooks pointed out that $30 for Royal Farms may not be much but for a small bakery, that fee could feel excessive. Councilman Culotta stated that having the attitude that $30 is “not much money” is not a good way to look at it because for some small businesses, $30 may make them choose another location.
“I think this is very fair,” Councilwoman Lisa Peel said. “the city is not making a profit on this. In the past, we were trying to profit but this is something the police and fire company need. It is being implemented simply to recover our costs.”
There was no public comment for or against the business license and the measure passed with a vote of 7 to 1. Councilman Culotta was the only dissenting vote.
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