Legislation would increase penalty fees for proprietors who have not paid, pay late
By Rachel Ravina, Staff Writer
(May 2, 2019) A new ordinance imposing penalties on Berlin businesses that have failed to pay their business license fees or have not renewed their licenses is working its way through the hearing process.
Town Administrator Laura Allen introduced the idea of assessing an extra charge on business license scofflaws at the April 8 town council meeting. The first reading of an ordinance that would empower the government to do that took place at the mayor and council’s April 22 meeting.
“At this time, staff is not recommending an increase to the business license fee,” Allen said in a staff report. “However, the planning director will be checking businesses this fall to ensure their business license is posted as required, a step provided in the code, which the town has not historically taken.”
Town officials launched a Business License Process Committee last year. Serving on it are the town’s finance director, planning director, economic and community development director, administrative services director, and town administrator.
The committee was directed to assess the situation, brainstorm and determine “what changes need to be made to ensure businesses obtain and promptly renew their licenses,” according to the staff report.
Allen said businesses must have a license — $75 for businesses and $150 for banks — to operate in the town.
According to Allen, 28 establishments, or 12 percent of the business community, have not paid their license fees as of March 1. She also said between 40 and 67 businesses, or 20 to 25 percent of businesses, send their payments late.
“The finance department spends a lot of time chasing late payments, typically sending three or four invoices and making multiple calls,” she said.
Allen clarified “we’re not trying to make money off anybody here,” but the department wants to “create enough of an incent[ive] to pay on time.”
Allen said the penalties would be gradually increased:
- If the bill is not paid within 30 days, there will be a 5 percent increase in the fee and publication of the names and businesses.
- If the bill is not paid within 60 days, there will be a 12 percent increase in the fee.
- If the bill is not paid within 90 days, there will be a 24 percent increase in the fee.
Town officials also proposed transferring the fee and penalties to a proprietor’s water bill, but only if “the business and property owner are the same.”
Additionally, Allen said a code enforcement officer could issue a citation to the business owner, “the penalty for which shall not exceed a fine of $1,000 and/or imprisonment for a term not to exceed six months.”
However, she emphasized that jail time would be “extremely unlikely” and was included as an “absolute last resort.”
“I think it will have the intended results [and] encourage people to get business licenses,” Allen said.
A public hearing on the measure is scheduled for May 13.