Council to review

Published 4:03 pm Wednesday, August 13, 2008

By Staff
city’s fee schedule
Business owners, others critical of recent increase
Contributing Editor
Washington’s City Council will revisit its decision to increase the maximum fee for some business-privilege licenses.
That move came Monday after several business owners and others spoke against the council’s June 23 decision to increase the maximum fee for some businesses from $500 a year to $2,500 a year. The council also indicated it plans to carefully review the city’s fees during the next budget-preparation cycle to determine if any changes are needed. It also plans to discuss the matter at its Sept. 22 meeting.
At the June 23 meeting, the council increased the maximum fee for a privilege license in three categories — manufacturing, retail and wholesale establishments that have gross receipts of more than $25,000 — from $500 to $2,500. The increase did not apply to service businesses.
The minimum fee for a privilege license issued by the city is $50. The fee a business is charged for a privilege license is based on gross receipts of that business.
Skip Smith, representing XS Smith, which is located in the Beaufort County Industrial Park, brought his concerns with the increase to the council. Smith said he has little, if any, confidence in the accuracy of the survey the city performed while investigating privilege-license fees in other cities and towns.
Smith said the information provided in that survey relative to the privilege-license fees other cities and towns charge “is no way approximate what the surroundings towns are” charging. The city’s fees are much higher than what other cities and towns charge, he said.
Smith said the increase in the maximum fee could result in businesses laying off workers during a sour economy.
James Chesnutt, representing National Spinning Co., which is based in Washington, told the council the increase is “out of reason.” He said National Spinning operations in other areas either don’t have to pay a fee for a privilege license or pay maximum fees ranging from $50 to $125.
Jack Mitchell, representing Mitchell Tractor and Equipment Co., also complained about the fee increase. Mitchell said while the city was charging him the $500 maximum fee in previous years, the company was paying from $50 to $60 a year for privilege licenses in other cities and towns. Mitchell also said he’s paid more than $20,000 in fees during the years he’s been in business.
Mitchell also said he has a problem with some businesses being exempt from the privilege-license fee or paying low fees. He said some businesses such as automobile dealers and doctors “pay hardly nothing.”
Catherine Glover, executive director of the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce, expressed similar concerns.
Councilman Archie Jennings called for the city to conduct a “full-scale review” of the matter. Because of the chamber’s close connection with the city’s business community, Jennings suggested the chamber work with city staff during the review. Later, the council decided to include the Beaufort County Committee of 100 in that review team.
Jennings to exception to remarks the increase was imposed to raise revenues for the city. He said the increase was “not enacted as a budget fix.” Instead, he said, the increase was implemented to “create some … equity on the top end of the scale,” referring to the maximum fee. Jennings said the city wanted to fix a situation in which a small business was paying the same fee as a another business making significantly more money.
Mayor Pro Tempore Doug Mercer, who at the June 23 meeting broached the subject of modifying some of the city’s fees, said he wanted to look at increasing some fees because “some of our fees had not been changed in 20-plus years.” As for the fees charged for privilege licenses, Mercer said he believed an increase was needed to address “a great inequity in what was in the scale.”
For additional coverage of the council’s meeting, see future editions of the Washington Daily News.