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A public notice isnt enough public outreach

Sometimes an official notice means what it says, but may somehow not say what it means. Such is the case with respect to the City of Forest Grove Notice of Public Hearing for an annual business license program and business license fees published on page 4B of the Jan. 9 News-Times. Even if I saw the notice, and I'm not sure I did, I sure didn't pay much attention to it.

Forest Grove Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Teri Koerner also sent out several news flashes regarding the public hearing set for Jan. 14 before the Forest Grove City Council. Again, for some reason, I did not pay much attention to what was happening.

Fortunately, through the efforts of our exceedingly competent City Recorder Anna Ruggles, the Forest Grove City Council Agenda and Council packet is uploaded to the city's web site by the Thursday before a city council meeting, all 463 pages for the Jan. 14 council meeting. It was only while reviewing the packet that I first became really aware of what that little Notice of Public Hearing meant. In the case of my office, the impact is a 1,271 percent increase from a $59 occupancy permit good for 10 years to a $75 annual business license.

Now $75 may not seem like much per year, but for some businesses the fee as proposed can be as high as $250 per year depending on the number of full-time equivalent employees and for others even with no employees, no less than $50 per year. But more importantly, the proposed business license appears to be primarily a tax on employees as opposed to the current occupancy permit, which is tied to the premises and is directed toward assuring that the premise conforms to applicable fire and safety and land-use codes.

However, of greater concern to me, the proposed business license has been created by city staff with little or no public input and after only two prior conversations with the council, once in February 2007 and again in August 2007.

After quickly reviewing the proposed implementing ordinance and fee resolution, I appeared at the Jan. 14 public hearing and spoke to over 10 problems which I perceived in the program, not the least of which was that I and Chamber Director Koerner were the only 'outsiders' to appear before the council. Councilor Pete Truax suggested that the city run the proposal past several of the city's innumerable affected boards and commissions, but his suggestion was shot down by the full council.

Even the city's staff and attorney appeared to acknowledge that several parts of the codes as written were unworkable. Nonetheless, without any indication of the need for broader directed input, the ordinance and resolution are set for a second reading and possible adoption at the city council meeting on Monday Feb. 11.

If you are a residential or commercial landlord; or if you have a commercial business located in; or if you live or have your office elsewhere, but carry on any form of business in; or if you have any commercial contact with the City of Forest Grove, or with businesses located within the city limits, I most strongly urge you to go to the city web site www.forestgrove-or.gov/images/stories/government/pdf/Packets/CC01-14-08A.pkt.pdf and read the proposed ordinance and review the fee resolution, determine how they may affect you, and then appear at the continued city council hearing on Feb. 11.

Now I realize that whether I use Grovenet, the Chamber of Commerce Friday Flash, the News-Times or (heaven forbid!) the Hillsboro Argus or The Oregonian, or possibly call one of the TV stations, I will still only be able to get the word out to a relatively few local business people regarding this significant policy shift from a site-based occupancy permit to a business/employee based 'business license,' but each of you who reads this short column can go to the city web site set forth above and read for yourself what is going to happen to you from an expense standpoint, and you can talk to others about the impact of this new program on your and their business operations within the city.

And you can encourage others to join you in appearing at the council meeting on Feb. 11 to let the city council know that, while you support good public safety and adherence to building codes in our city, the city has an obligation to seek out affected constituencies and solicit their input on major policy shifts. It is not enough to rely on a 'Notice of Public Hearing' on page 4 of the sports section the week before the hearing.

Bob Browning is a Forest Grove native who has practiced law in Ballad Towne Square since 1979.