Challenge awaits city business fee


News staff writer

September 2, 2006

A Hood River resident plans to launch a campaign against the new business license adopted by the city council on Monday — if necessary.

Brian Robb, a self-employed photographer, hopes that history does not have to repeat itself. In 1989 citizens passed a referendum by a two-to-one margin that overturned an almost identical license proposal.

Robb said there could still be time to stop a replay of that scenario. He is asking citizens and business owners to show up at the council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 12.

Elected officials are expected to give the second and final reading to Ordinance 1901 on Sept. 12. The business license, involving a $50 initial fee and a $20 annual renewal, will go into effect 30 days later if approved.

“I’m urging people to be at the next city council meeting because this thing is not final yet. They could change their minds if we show them how many people are not in favor of this,” said Robb.

At the Aug. 28 meeting, Councilors Paul Blackburn, Laurent Picard and Ann Frodel voted against 1901. They believed that 75 percent of Oregon’s cities did not require a license so there must be an alternative way to create a central data base, a key reason for the fee.

Mayor Linda Streich cast the deciding vote in favor of the license after Councilors Paul Cummings, Carrie Nelson and Martin Campos-Davis approved 1901. They felt it would provide an avenue to more closely monitor home-based businesses using hazardous materials, or provide emergency responders with easy access to contact numbers if a fire or crime occurred on the property.

Robb said the business license proposal was not received by community members any better in 2006 than it was 17 years ago. He is confident the vote will be similar on a second referendum, especially since a survey recently conducted by the Hood River County Chamber of Commerce found that almost 60 percent of respondents were against the license. And strong objections were registered by some members of the Heights Business Association and other entrepreneurs.

“I don’t think this is something the people of Hood River want so the council shouldn’t have acted against their wishes,” Robb said.

He believes that, in spite of the city’s protests, the license is intended as a revenue-generator. Robb said even if the first year only takes in the expected $30,000, the fee is likely to keep going up.

“I’ve never seen anything like that go down,” he said.

He said the rationale that extra regulations are necessary to protect the welfare of the community is also faulty. According to Robb, the state fire marshal has already set rules for the amount of hazardous materials that can be stored on site without a report on file.

Robb said the city has also attempted to justify the fee because it can use information gleaned from about 600 businesses within its jurisdiction as a marketing tool. And provide potential employers with a packet of city codes and contact numbers for inquiries.

Robb said the chamber already promotes the business community. And city codes and department heads can all be accessed through the city’s Web site.

“I also feel this fee is unfair because it is the same charge whether you are a small artist or Wal-Mart,” he said.

Robb said it feels like déjà vu to be fighting the same battle as in 1989. He said the license fee was the same at $50 — and so was the controversy.

The council was asked at that time to bring the issue before the electorate. However, former Councilor Bob Kirkwood explained to the crowd of opponents gathered in the municipal meeting room that, “For one and one-half years, we’ve worked on this issue, and everything we did was open to the public. We took your suggestions and appreciate them; but I don’t think we’ll ever get an ordinance that will please everyone.”

On Monday, Bob Francis, city manager, said, “I think that this ordinance has really been looked at and beat up. It’s been changed (mandatory inspections dropped) and sent back out again. I think this is one of those ordinances where the public has had ample opportunity for comment.”

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