By Michael Howell
The Stevensville Town Council narrowly approved on first reading a Business License Requirements Ordinance at its meeting last Thursday, January 24. In order to be officially adopted it must also be approved on second reading at a meeting scheduled for February 7. Two chapters of existing regulations governing the licensing of businesses that were included in the Town Code adopted in 1973 were repealed and the new ordinance was adopted to replace them. The old regulations required a business license to operate a business in town but had no fee associated with it and apparently no licenses had ever been issued.
The proposed ordinance calls for a $25 annual license fee and requires that every business within the town be licensed. The definition includes, “but is not limited to” home-based, industrial, retail, wholesale and non-profits, although non-profits are exempted from the $25 fee. The licenses, regardless of the date issued, will all expire on December 31 of the year issued. The fees are not prorated or refunded if a business ceases to operate during the year.
A license may be suspended or revoked by action of the Town Council “for conducting business in such a manner as to create a public nuisance or constituting a danger to the public welfare, health and safety, as well as fraud or misrepresentation on the license application.”
Violators are subject to the general provisions for violating an ordinance which is a fine of not more than $500.
Attendance at the public hearing regarding the ordinance was sparse. Two pieces of correspondence were received. One from Dan DePauw asked why the need for a business license was being considered at this time and where the money would go. Another from Brian Potton also asked ‘why now?’, and where the money would go. He called the fee a tax and said he was against raising taxes and complained that no cap had been set on the fee.
Robert Morowic, present at the meeting, also asked, “Why now? Just because we don’t have one?” He also expressed concern about the potential of the council to deny or revoke a license.
“The idea of having the Town Council decide who does business in town and who doesn’t disturbs me,” said Morowic.
Michael Howell asked how the amount of the fee was arrived at and questioned whether the fee should be the same upon renewal as it was when first being obtained.
Tom Keith said that he was a resident who co-owned a business with non-residents, but he endorsed the ordinance. He said he had no problem with the licensing requirements or the fee and thought that since he was doing business in town and enjoying the town’s services he and his partners should give something back.
The mayor and council members explained that the issue arose when they recently considered and changed the Town’s Transient Business License. Councilor Ron Klaphake said that he examined the existing regulations and noted the lack of enforcement and other obsolete requirements. It was noted that the fees in adjacent and equivalent communities were examined and that the amount chosen seemed reasonable. The money collected will go into the general fund, “But it is not a money making proposition,” said Klaphake. He said the fees would cover the cost of setting up and administering the licensing program.
Mayor Gene Mim Mack said the aim was to create a registry of businesses in town that would be beneficial in conducting town business. It was estimated that there are from 80 to perhaps 100 businesses in town. At the top end the fees raised would be under $2,500. Councilor Perrin said that, given all the costs of administration and the cost of setting up and maintaining the database, the fees were reasonable.
At the council meeting later that evening, when the ordinance was considered, Klaphake immediately offered an amendment to the ordinance exempting the rental of residential real estate from the licensing requirements.
The amendment drew some opposition from a few of the councilors. Councilor Desera Towle questioned the reasoning behind it. She suggested that one person renting their own house out temporarily or owning one rental maybe ought to be exempted.
“But some people and some companies are renting several homes out in town,” said Towle. “That’s certainly a business.” She said anyone who owns a second home and rents it out is considered by the state to be in business and must report that income like any other business.
In the end the Council was split over the amendment with Councilors Klaphake and Bill Perrin supporting it and Councilors Towle and Robin Holcomb opposing it. The Mayor cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of adding the amendment. Asked by Towle to state his reasons, the Mayor said that he could appreciate her points, but that there were a lot of people in town who rented one or two homes for extra income and he did not consider it a real business.
Once the amendment was approved the ordinance itself was approved unamimously by the four-member Council.
In other business the Council:
• approved a contract for services as the Town’s Prosecuting Attorney with Brian West at $75 per hour, services to be rendered as needed on a part-time basis. If the services exceed 40 hours per month for two consecutive months, the attorney has the option of renegotiating the terms of the contract or terminating it. The contract may be terminated by either party without cause following 30 days notice.
• authorized the call for bids on the Airport Taxi Lane extension project.
• approved an addendum to an agreement with the Missoula Federal Credit Union that the bank will pay an additional $20,000 to the Town to address certain deviations and issues which have arisen with regard to the construction of the sewer lines in the Twin Creeks Subdivision development project. The money will be paid to the Town after the final subdivision plat has been approved and recorded from the proceeds of the sale of the first lot or out of the proceeds from the sale of the whole subdivision, or no later than five years from the date of this agreement. The Town agrees to hold the bank harmless from any future claims related to the sewer lines and agrees to accept the sewer lines and system as constructed.
• approved an Americans with Disability Act “self-evaluation and transition plan” for the Town Hall facility.
• approved a revised legal description of the property being annexed at the Stevensville Airport. This would replace the flawed legal description of the airport property that was adopted during the annexation process, which erroneously included some land that was not owned by the Town.