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Fiscal Court to look at business license – again

With the McCreary County Fiscal Court scrambling to find ways to increase revenues, an old idea looks as if it will appear again – a business license.

A fully finalized agenda not available as of press time, but the Voice has learned that a new ordinance regarding a business license will be presented for consideration – two years after a similar proposal died without action being taken.

Ordinance 215.0, calling for the establishment of a business license in McCreary County was listed on a preliminary draft of the agenda for Thursday night’s meeting. That ordinance number is the same as the one proposed in 2014.

The business license ordinance was first drafted and proposed by the McCreary County Chamber of Commerce at the end of 2014, but was tabled before the first reading could be held.

Concerns over the original bill centered on the cost of fees and fines for violations. Many members of the public spoke out against the ordinance, stating they felt it targeted the “little people” who are struggling to get by and operating small businesses out of their homes or in flea markets.

Opponents also expressed their doubts over enforcement, claiming they had no faith in county leadership adding another law that the felt was likely to be ignored and not policed.

Proponents of the ordinance claimed it would create a fair playing ground for all businesses and would allow for better enforcement of the existing Occupational Tax law.

After a lengthy discussion at the December, 2014 Fiscal Court meeting the first reading of the proposed ordinance was tabled, and had not yet returned.

The idea resurfaced at last December’s meeting when Magistrate Jason Mann discussed the potential need for some form of ordinance prohibiting people from setting up de-facto flea markets at abandoned businesses, which compete with established businesses who pay County Occupational taxes as well as state and federal sales tax.

Judge Executive Doug Stephens said, at the time, that he felt there needed to be some sort of broader law in place that would not only deal with the vendors, but protect all businesses in the county. He noted the Court had already considered a business license and advised the Magistrates that he would be willing to bring it before the court again if they so desired.

The original ordinance called for a $25 fee for “regular” businesses, and established a $75 fee for temporary, or itinerant business, which would target street vendors who set up on private property without the owner’s consent.

On Tuesday Judge Stephens stated the new ordinance would be similar to the original, but some minor changes will be made, including reducing the fees for acquiring the license to a minimal cost – just enough to cover the cost of producing the documents.

Yard sales, and sales by charitable organizations would be exempt from requiring a license.

Enforcement of the law would fall upon the McCreary County Sheriff’s Department and the McCreary County Occupational Tax Office to perform periodic inspections of businesses to ensure their permit is displayed and up to date.

A fine of up to $25 for non-compliance could be established, as well as up to $50 for not displaying the license.

A business license would have a couple effects on local business.

First, it would allow for better tracking of businesses through the Occupational Tax Office, leading to better enforcement of the existing law. Having businesses register with the office, and creating a master list of all licenses will allow for easier tracking of commerce in the county. If a business is found to be operating without a license it could face fines and penalties.

Secondly, it would help to protect existing businesses from unfair competition. One example used is the number of vendors at the M3 parking lot, selling goods similar to those offered in a business down the road. While the business pays occupational tax to the county, the vendors do not.

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