When Assistant to the City Manager Mark Morgan told the City Council at this week’s meeting the Business Advisory Committee recommended against implementing city-wide business licenses, council members moved on to the next matter at hand. This was a mistake.

While it may not be the most popular move to make, there are a number of good reasons for city officials to do so, starting with the fact they already created an ordinance requiring mobile food vendors to obtain a business license to operate in the city. The city is charging those vendors $500 a year to do so.

The City of Hermiston recently revealed a new brand: “Hermiston:?You can grow here.” This vision encompasses business growth as well. If the City Council quashes business license discussions now, it will be sending the wrong message to the community: that the city is not interested in treating all businesses fairly and equally. This conflicts with the message the city is trying to send: that Hermiston is a great place to for anyone to open and grow a business.

If council members stop now, they will have to add an asterisk to that message and refer people to the fine print.

While the Business Advisory Committee members shared their views on why a business license is not needed in their recent meeting, council members have not shared their views or had any kind of discussion on the topic. This is interesting given the idea was first introduced by Councilman John Kirwan.

At the last Business Advisory Committee meeting, Chairman Jason Graybeal said he would not be in favor of a business license unless he could give business owners a good reason as to why the city wanted to implement one.

Actually, in addition to the fact the City Council has already implemented business licenses for mobile food vendors and, to be as fair as council members indicated they want to be, they should create a general one, there are a number of other good reasons the largest city in eastern Oregon should require business licenses.

One, as was pointed out by Business Advisory Committee member Karen Hutchinson-Talaski, is the city would be able to keep track of businesses coming in.

Business licenses can give cities very useful, basic information. By having a business license, city officials can easily determine what businesses are in town, what their physical addresses are, who the owner is and how to reach them or a manager in case of an emergency in off-business hours. From a public safety standpoint, a business license makes a great deal of sense.

As well, city officials can also monitor where businesses want to set up shop ahead of time and determine if there are any issues with that location. Case in point: When the owners of Smoke City decided they wanted to move the business to a location near the high school, city officials decided it was not appropriate for that business, which sells what the city deems “drug paraphernalia,” to be situated near schools and amended its drug ordinance to regulate that.

Smoke City, however, had already been open directly across the street from Sunset Elementary for about a year, at that point when the owner inquired about moving near the high school.

If a business license requirement was in effect prior to that, city officials could have addressed such concerns before the shop actually opened in the city and eliminate having to go back and hastily amend city ordinances to reflect their thoughts on what is acceptable for Hermiston.

City officials should not implement business licenses, however, to generate revenue, and business owners might be more receptive to the idea if the license fees were only enough to cover the city’s administrative costs. That means, however, city officials would have to amend the $500 fee they will be charging mobile food vendors in the city.

It is doubtful it would cost the city $4,500 a year to recoup administrative costs for the nine mobile food vendors in town, anyway.

A general business license and fee for all businesses to pay equally, however, would spread the cost out equally and fairly and would go a long way in solidifying the city’s image of being a great place  for people — and businesses — to grow.

— Jessica Keller is the editor of the Hermiston Herald. She welcomes reader feedback and can be reached at jkeller@hermistonherald.com

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