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City: data, not revenue, drives business license idea

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

June 7, 2006

The Hood River City Council is pondering a business license that could generate about $30,000 in revenue the first year — and gather information for a central database.

On Monday, the elected body will take public comment on the proposal to levy a first-time charge of $50, followed by a $20 annual renewal fee. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. on June 12 in the municipal courtroom at the junction of Second and State streets.

“This isn’t about the money. The purpose of the fee is to create a database so we will be able to better protect businesses from fires and other emergencies,” said Bob Francis, city manager.

He estimates there are about 600 businesses of all sizes within the city limits of Hood River. And the application for the license would provide valuable information about any hazardous materials stored inside, as well as contact numbers and physical characteristics of the building.

Francis said last year there was a fire reported in a downtown store, but firefighters did not know who to call so they could get inside. Since they could not see flames or smoke through the front window, they had to track down the owner before entering. Although the report turned out to be unfounded, Francis said it highlighted the need for the database.

“I think this is just one more tool that we could use to provide for the public safety of citizens,” he said.

Francis said the cost of staff time to electronically record information from the application is behind the initially higher cost for the license. He anticipates the city will earn 20-25 percent less each year thereafter.

He said the proposed local fee falls between the $25-$150 charged for licenses in similar-size cities throughout the state.

Exemptions from the local license would be granted for garage sales, part-time child care providers, employees, and companies making deliveries into town but based elsewhere.

When a business owner fills out the application, Francis said the city decides if an inspection of the premises is warranted to address security, structural or safety concerns. For example, he said Fire Chief Jeff Walker might want to check out the storage of any highly flammable products at the site. Although the city would reserve the right for an annual inspection, Francis said that is unlikely to happen.

He said the cost for the first inspection will be covered by the licensing fee. If other visits are warranted, he said the business owner will probably be asked to offset the expenses of staff time, although no monetary amount has yet been decided upon. Francis said once the database is compiled, it could reveal that some businesses have located in areas that are not zoned for the operation. In that case, he said the owner would be required to seek a variance from the planning commission to avoid relocating.

“Certainly, we don’t want people to start up a business and find out they made a mistake and aren’t where they should be. Having this database will also help us make sure the sign code and other ordinances are being followed,” Francis said.

Once the council has heard from the public, the officials will decide whether to adopt the license fee, change the guidelines or reject the idea altogether.

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