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City’s business license proposal draws a crowd

Councilors, business owners, and interested citizens weigh the pros and cons of a business license

by: JASON CHANEY/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Prineville City Councilor Dean Noyes and Prineville Police Chief Eric Bush (at podium) provide the rest of the City Council and the public some details on how a business license requirement might benefit Prineville.

The Prineville City Council met for the first time to officially discuss a possible business license requirement at a Tuesday-evening work session.
   The meeting drew about 40 residents and business owners from throughout the community as councilors raised a variety of questions and ideas.
   Councilor Dean Noyes opened the session by presenting a list of purposes to consider a business license in Prineville. These included the enhancement of public safety, the development of a more reliable business database, and improved orderly economic development.
   “I think the most important part of this process is to ask ourselves the question of how can we help businesses in Prineville operate more efficiently and in accordance with existing ordinances,” Noyes said.
   Much of the meeting focused on how the City could compile an accurate list of businesses to aid the efforts of emergency services personnel. Prineville Police Chief Eric Bush noted that the police respond to about 200 business alarm calls each year. When those alarms go off, the police reference their business resource directory.
   “It’s basically a voluntary system,” he explained. “If we hear about a business or we go to a call and a new business is in town that is not in the business directory, we solicit them on the spot.”
   Bush added the directory is about 60 to 70 percent accurate, and that their efforts to add businesses are hit and miss. Because of this, they have a hard time contacting certain business owners when an alarm goes off, causing calls to last as long as two hours. He believes that a City business license or registry would help bring the business database closer to being 100 percent accurate.
   Crook County Fire Chief Matt Smith expressed a similar need when it comes to fires. He said they rely on a database run by the State Fire Marshal’s office. The database not only provides contact information, but also what hazardous materials the business has on the premises as well as whether fire sprinklers are installed in the building. Smith said this database also becomes less accurate as businesses change locations or new companies come to town in the middle of the year. Consequently, he would like to see a more accurate business database for Prineville.
   “For us to know on our way out there (on a call) what we are dealing with, it’s very helpful to have that access to a true database where you are confident of what’s in it,” Smith said.
   In addition to the fire and police databases, Crook County Building Official Lou Haehnlen offered another possible way to compile a business list. He explained that building code requires each business to fill out a certificate of occupancy.
   Like Crook County Fire and Rescue and the Prineville Police Department, the County Building Department has struggled to compile a complete and accurate database.
   “What I’d like to see happen is we send out these certificates of occupancy forms, and have each business fill them out and send them back at no cost,” Haehnlen said.
   Adding to the potential collection of business listings, Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce board president Ed Yoder announced plans to compile one of their own. The list would expand on their already-existing Chamber members list.
   “We have already talked about setting up a separate database for this particular issue,” he said. Yoder went on to explain that the Chamber would host the database at no cost and would distribute the list to the Prineville Police Department and Crook County Fire and Rescue as well as Crook County GIS.
   After listening to some of the reasoning behind implementing a business license, Councilor Gordon Gillespie noticed a tendency toward passive management rather than active management.
   “We want to know what is there,” he observed. “We don’t want to control what is there.”
   He then asked if a business license would ever serve as an active business management tool, particularly in instances where toxic chemicals or other hazards part of the business.
   Noyes did not see the need for a license to dictate what a business does.
   “There are a lot of other vehicles that are in place to manage businesses that have substances on their property,” he said.
   Councilors also discussed how they could utilize a license requirement to benefit local businesses. Noyes felt they could inform new companies of City ordinances associated with doing business in Prineville and even use the license database as a tool to promote new business investment.
   Councilor Steve Uffelman did not agree with that premise, saying that the local Chamber of Commerce should take on that role. He did, however, agree that the City would benefit from a business registry for public safety purposes.
   Audience members did not dispute the need for an improved business database, but did voice concerns about the potential expense involved with a license requirement.
   Local contractor Travis Vail pointed out that he and his wife own two businesses, and does not want to face another expense.
   “As a contractor, I pay, just to be in business, $3,000 a year,” he said. “I’m against it (a business license) I don’t want to be paying two (fees) because I have two businesses.”
   Teresa Rodriguez, another local resident, said a license fee could deter people from choosing Prineville to open a business.
   “Look at the reason that businesses come here,” she said. “Property is cheaper here. Fees are cheaper. It’s cheaper to do business in the City of Prineville.”
   ABC Fence owner Larry Smith, on the other hand, felt the fee was worth the benefit.
   “It is a cost,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with it. It’s a cost of business.”
   However, he went on to say that the City needs to set aside funds to ensure that business license holders abide by the Prineville laws.
   With regard to fees, Noyes stressed that the City would try to keep the cost as low as possible. He also stressed that according to State of Oregon law, cities can only charge fees for cost recovery.
   In addition to potential expenses, business owner Michelle Vail expressed another concern.
   “If you have a business license and you are required to have this business license given to you to be able to do business in Prineville, if something can be given, some also can be not given,” Vail said. “Ultimately, there is a huge fear of somebody eventually being able to say no.”
   At this time, the City Council has not made any formal decisions regarding business licenses, and will continue discussing the issue and taking public comment in future meetings.
   Councilor contacts
   Mayor Betty Roppe
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   Dean Noyes
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   Steve Uffelman
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   Gordon Gillespie
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   Jack Seley
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   Jason Beebe
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   Gail Merritt
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