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City considering charging for business licenses

Currently, no business license is required in the city
Prineville businesses may soon be charged licensing fees, however the cost may initiate a worthwhile company database, among other essentials for the growing community.
   City Manager Robb Corbett met with the Prineville/Crook County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors on Thursday morning to get the board's feedback on a proposed business licensing program.
   "There have been discussions off and on over the course of a 12-month period of instances where a business license might be something worth considering," Corbett said. "I think at some point in the future, the city council will be having a discussion about that. It hasn't been scheduled, but it's something that I anticipate that they're going to want to look at."
   Currently, only some of the city's businesses are regulated by the State of Oregon licensing plan. Other businesses are not required to be licensed, therefore the city loses the ability to maintain accurate information regarding the companies.
   "It's probably fair to say that most cities in the state have business licenses and municipal business licenses," Corbett continued. "There are some businesses that have to file with the state, but it's not a requirement."
   "There are only certain kinds of businesses that need licenses, just the ones that the police would like to know are in business," City Councilor Gordon Gillespie added. "Most people think it's standard, so it's probably a good thing in several ways to keep track of what's going on."
   Among Corbett's examples for introducing the program, he cited a recent emergency at a local business.
   "The police were called, outside of business hours, by an alarm system and they were not sure if there was somebody still in the building. They had the building surrounded and they determined that they needed to access a building adjacent to the one where the alarm went off," he said. "It took us an extended period of time to be able to find out who had keys to the building. Whereas with a database, we could instantly access up-to-date contact information and we would know who to call. Most of the time we know who they are because it's a small town, but that's not always the case."
   The licensing structure could also assist the Crook County Fire and Rescue personnel as they are preparing to battle a blaze.
   "The fire department has mentioned to the staff that having a building license would help them keep track of businesses that might store hazardous materials," Corbett continued. "The building inspection department could also benefit from it. Sometimes changes occur that might require some type of regulation that we're not able to capture. Somebody might go in and change the use of a building that's regulated and it's too late. It's already done because they're not required to get a business license."
   The rough draft of the license program also proposes to change the course of the current System Development Charges (SDCs).
   "We are looking at the way that we assess SDCs," Corbett said. "Right now, the way the rules are written, they're based on what could happen in the building based on its size - not necessarily what is occurring. The SDC assessment is for the highest use and if we had a business license requirement, we could be assured that if the building were ever converted from a small, half-dozen-person office to a 40-person call center, we could assess additional SDCs at that time."
   After hearing the preliminary ideas from Corbett, Chamber Board President Jay Porter said, "We gave Robb some initial reactions that we hope would be representative of our membership and the business community as a whole. We did not endorse or oppose it at this early stage. We just gave him a little bit of feedback on what we thought of it and what we thought the initial reactions would be from businesses - pros and cons and things for them to think about as they're pursuing their options."
   "We went to the Chamber first because that's a good sounding board for the city," Corbett added.
   Among the board's concerns were containing the cost to administering the program, not as a source of revenue.
   "In general, anytime we're talking about a licensing fee, we've told them that we felt it would better serve the community if the amount of the annual license fee, or the initial license fee, was determined to be a reasonable number," Porter said. "We told them that we definitely couldn't support anything if it was meant as a revenue raiser. Obviously, if they're going to administer some kind of business licensing program, they're going to have staff time, cost to process applications and monitoring the program. A token fee to cover that on an annual basis or on an as-needed basis would probably be reasonable. He (Corbett) indicated that it was not meant as a source of revenue, that they had other reasons for wanting to do a licensing structure."
   As the discussions continue to get underway, Corbett also emphasized that the importance of the program would offset the minimal charge.
   "There would be a cost involved. However the approach that we're suggesting is that it would just be a cost recovery," Corbett said. "We wouldn't want to see it be a revenue generator for the city."
   For now, the city will continue gaining momentum in the discussion with an eventual, yet still unscheduled, city council meeting to determine the outcome.
   "We think that it's worth having the discussion," Corbett said. "I'm sure that the council will want to hear from the business community and the public."