By: Greg Bird
The McCreary County Fiscal Court opted to table a business license ordinance proposed by the Chamber of Commerce in order to seek more public input on the issue after a lengthy discussion during Thursday’s meeting.
The proposed ordinance would require all businesses operating within McCreary County to purchase a business license through the Occupational Tax Office, and those not complying with the law could be subject to fines and legal actions to collect.
A section of the ordinance requiring home-based businesses, and “yard sale” vendors who set up along the public roadways to purchase licenses proved to be controversial during discussion during the meeting.
Greg Burdine, representing the Chamber, stated the ordinance was designed to help protect the businesses in the county from unfair practices from outside vendors, and to generate revenue.
He used an example of insurance claims over the summer following hail damage to roofs. Burdine stated insurance companies contracted with outside contractors to do repairs, which resulted in over $400,000 in claims, which were not taxed locally and the money left the county.
Deputy Judge Andrew Powell, who had been working with Chamber officials over the past year to develop the outline of the proposal added some clarification regarding language concerning yard sales. Powell noted citizens who hold yard sales on their own property, or on other private property with the land owners permission, will not be affected by the ordinance.
Magistrate Roger Phillips expressed concern about the possibility of another fee levied against business owners.
“I have received several calls today,” he said. “Businesses can’t handle the burden.”
Magistrate Jason Mann suggested removing the fee for local businesses altogether, but leaving it intact for outside companies, but was advised that would not be legal.
Phillips then asked if it would be possible to remove the permit fee altogether, relying instead on penalties and fines against those businesses which do not comply with the law.
Both the representatives from the Chamber and Powell said that could be a possibility, noting the license was just a tool to get records of businesses operating in the county in order to help the Occupational Tax office identify who should be paying their share of the taxes.
“The fees are secondary,” Powell said. “The intent is not to prosecute any business owner for taking the chance. It just is to give businesses a level playing field.”
Members of the public raised concerns over the effectiveness of enforcing the law, and asked for clarification about what the county viewed as a “business.”
Citizen William Kilby asked about the cost of prosecuting offenders, such as legal fees, which could amount to more than the fees owed.
He also wondered how officials came up with the dollar amount which requires home based businesses to apply for a license if they made more than $600 a year through sales.
Powell said the $600 figure was based off the IRS threshold, and any such “business” should be reporting income at the federal level, and thus should also pay local taxes on the income as well.
He used an example of someone obtaining goods at wholesale prices and selling them over the internet but not paying taxes on the income, competing with local businesses selling the same products who do adhere to tax laws.
Citizen Tony Kidd expressed his doubts over the ability to enforce the law, citing garbage and occupational tax collections that have not been prosecuted.
“Show us you are trying to collect it before you go after the honest people who pay,” he said. “This is just going to hurt honest citizens. I think you are asking everyone who is already paying to pay a little more.”
“The people who you are targeting won’t come in anyway.”
Powell said there are issues with enforcing any law, but “sometimes the right thing is the hardest thing.”
While Greg Burdine said he supported the initiative to implement a business license, he agreed with Kidd’s comments.
“I hope when and if you pass this thing, you put teeth in it to collect,” he said.
Judge Executive Doug Stephens recommended passing the first reading of the ordinance then holding a public hearing prior to the next meeting of the Fiscal Court, but the Magistrates balked at the proposal, stating they would prefer to have public input before taking any action.
A public hearing on the matter has been called for 5:00 p.m. on December 11, two hours prior to the regularly scheduled Fiscal Court meeting at 7:00 p.m.
Anyone interested in providing input on the proposed business license is encouraged to attend, or can submit their opinion in writing at the Judge Executive’s Office before the meeting date.
In other Fiscal Court actions Thursday:
The Court opened bids relating to the County Road Garage to replace the old fuel system and to install a generator. The Court was told last month the existing system is outdated and prone to outages and a replacement is needed, as well as a generator, to ensure county vehicles can get fuel during emergency situations.
After receiving assurances the expenditure, which would come from the LGEA fund, wouldn’t put the Court over their spending limit, the magistrates awarded the fuel system bid to Ace Petroleum for $38,870 and the generator bid to Lyons Electrical for $26,730.
Citizen Roger Owens from Operation UNITE presented a proposed ordinance, which would ban smoking in public places and restaurants.
Since the ordinance was not on the agenda, the Fiscal Court could take no action on the bill, but it could be discussed at an upcoming meeting.
Magistrate Ball also asked Judge Stephens for an update on the proposed salary increases for county employees.
Judge Stephens said he was still working on the proposal, but planned to have something to present at the next Fiscal Court meeting, which will be on December 11 at 7:00 p.m.