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Business license tabled

By: Greg Bird

The house was packed Thursday afternoon as the McCreary County Fiscal Court held a public meeting regarding the proposed business license ordinance, first put forth by the McCreary County Chamber of Commerce.

Representatives of the Chamber were on hand to champion the bill and answer questions, while many private citizens and business owners were also in attendance to voice their concerns of the proposed license.

Ultimately, no action was taken on the ordinance during the Fiscal Court meeting that followed. There were indications, however, that some members of the Fiscal Court might be in favor of passing the ordinance with some minor revisions in the coming months.

When Judge Executive Doug Stephens called for a motion to approve the first reading of the ordinance, he was met by nearly a minute of silence as no magistrate seemed willing to start the process.

Next Judge Stephens asked if the Court wished to let the issue die or to table it. Magistrate Roger Phillips motioned to postpone the first reading in order to learn more about the proposal and the ramifications it could have if passed. He also stated he believed it was unfair to the two incoming magistrates to enter their term with potential legislation already partially approved.

Both Phillips and Magistrate Jason Mann indicated they may support the ordinance in coming months if fees were removed for obtaining the license and assured citizens the ordinance is not intended to go after individuals trying to make a living from selling goods out of their home or yard sales.

“We are not going after the little people,” Mann said.

“I would never vote for it if it has a fee,” Phillips stated.

The Court voted unanimously to table the ordinance, much to the dismay of Chamber representatives present.

Before the meeting, discussion from both supporters and opponents of the proposal took the floor in a public discussion on the topic lasting nearly two hours.

Buddy Wilson, owner of Crabtree Wilson Insurance Agency, took the floor first on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce. After presenting letters of support from businesses, Wilson spoke about the need for such an ordinance to protect local businesses.

“I know this is a controversial subject,” he said. “But we (the Chamber) feel it is something we need.”

Wilson spoke about the “underground economy” in McCreary County and cited an example about one out of county business “bragging” about making over $600,000 in the past few months repairing hail damage to local homes.

The money made by the company, Wilson claimed, is not being reported locally, and the company is not paying occupational taxes on profits or labor.

He also spoke about the clause in the ordinance that would pay local law enforcement, such as constables, a $50 fee for citing businesses and individuals who do not comply with the law.

It also gives the local Occupational Tax Administrator the authority to go out and check with local businesses to ensure they are in compliance.

“I think it is a way to put some teeth in this,” he said.

“The only people that this is going to affect are the people who are not paying their fair share,” he said.

Local businessman Rick Wilson spoke next, and presented the Court with a petition with over 500 signatures from individuals who were against the ordinance.

He stated people didn’t really understand what the ordinance means, and were worried how this would affect the “little people.”

“I feel this isn’t in the best interest of the little people,” he said. “We don’t need somebody else getting in their ‘business.’ Leave them alone – let them be.”

Wilson stated his belief that it was up to the individual on whether or not to report their income from peddling or selling from their home.

“Let them be the judge of their own conscience,” he said.

Judge Executive Doug Stephens said the intention behind the proposed law was not to target little people, but noted that if someone made more than $600 in profit annually from home based businesses or selling, they would be required to report that income to the IRS by federal law.

Stephens asked Wilson if someone was setting up on the side of the road every day, wouldn’t he consider that a business?

“It wouldn’t be none of my business,” Wilson responded.

He added he thought the ordinance was supposed to be in the best interest of commerce, but was not in his best interest.

Wayne Nelson, a local insurance agent, questioned the logistics of introducing a new ordinance when the County already has an Occupational Tax ordinance on the books that it is not prosecuting fully.

“We have an ordinance now, where not everyone is paying, and we are wanting to adopt a second ordinance to enforce the first ordinance,” he said. “The reasoning just doesn’t register with me.”

Judge Stephens stated he believed local businesses are facing unfair competition, and that he could not treat one class of business different than another.

He also assured citizens that enforcement efforts would be a priority for his administration.

“I assure you, we are going to go after the ones we know about,” he said.

Businessman Tony Kidd, who spoke against the ordinance last month, reiterated his concerns over lack of enforcement on existing laws.

“What have you done since the last meeting to show us how you are going to implement this?” he asked.

Citizen Vikki Kidd expressed concerns over where the money generated by the fees and fines will go as well as the authority local law enforcement will have when enforcing the law.

“It makes me aggravated that I pay my occupational tax and others don’t,” she said. “You are going to have to decide what your goal is.”

Other members of the public stated their opposition to the ordinance on the grounds of not wanting more government intrusion into their business.

Judge Stephens closed the public comment session by reiterating if and when the ordinance is passed, the Chamber of Commerce will not have any control over the law, and adding that he agrees better enforcement of both the occupational tax and business license ordinance is needed.

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