City fees under review
A subcommittee of the Washington City Council will review fees charged by the city.
The council appointed council members Edward Moultrie Jr. and Doug Mercer to a subcommittee to review fees the city charges.
“You know I have raised the question about fees and I asked you to appoint a committee, so, if you want to appoint me, I’d be glad to do it,” Mercer said to Jennings.
That subcommittee could include members of the public. That decision is being left to the two council members.
“Would you like to add members of the public on that committee, if you think that would be helpful?” Mayor Archie Jennings asked after Moultrie and Mercer were appointed.
“I certainly don’t have an objection,” Mercer said.
Jennings said if the subcommittee determines it wants to include members of the public, the council could make those appointments at its meeting later this month.
Mercer said it may be appropriate for the two-member subcommittee to meet and do some work, then make that work available to the public for review. That could be followed by a public hearing to obtain input from anyone rather than just one or two individuals appointed to the subcommittee.
“I have no problem doing it either way,” Mercer said.
“What I was suggesting is that as you get into the process, if you felt like it would be helpful to have direct involvement, you could come back to us. If you don’t feel like it would be necessary or helpful, you could proceed accordingly. Fair enough?” Jennings said.
Councilman Bobby Roberson suggested the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce have a role in the review of the fees, saying the subcommittee’s work will affect the business community.
“Let’s let the committee meet and chart a strategy, OK?” Jennings said.
Earlier this year, council members said they wanted to review city fees with an eye toward making it easier to do business in and with the city. The fees charged for business licenses are among those expected to be reviewed by the panel.
The council last formally discussed such fees in 2009 when it increased the maximum annual fee for service establishments (such as a restaurant) by 50 percent, from $500 to $750. In 2008, the city increased the maximum fee for a retailer, wholesaler and manufacturer — service establishments were left alone then — from $500 to $2,500. The increase resulted in an outcry from some businesses that saw their fees jump from $500 to $2,500 or somewhere between. After that outcry, the council set the maximum fee at $1,500.
In other business, the council authorized the city manager to sign an agreement with Retail Strategies, LLC to assist the city in retail recruitment and retention efforts for a cost not to exceed $30,000 for one year.
“Council, we’ve discussed this during our regular workshops as well as some other opportunities for the City of Washington to take on some economic development for itself,” City Manager Josh Kay told the council and mayor. “This contract with Retail Strategies … is a agreement to do that. It’s a consulting firm that would take over and assist the City of Washington with recruiting and retaining commercial entities inside the City of Washington.”
Kay said Retail Strategies would prefer a multi-year deal with the cost for each year after the first year at $15,000. Kay said the reason for the higher cost in the first year is because Retail Strategies would have to do initial studies related to demographics, retail studies and “more data-driven studies.”