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Council adopts business license ordinance

Berlin resident Jeff Smith addresses Town Attorney David Gaskill during a Berlin Mayor and Council meeting Monday evening about an ordinance imposing harsher penalties for Berlin businesses that have not yet paid or renewed their license fee.

By Rachel Ravina, Staff Writer

(May 16, 2019) An ordinance imposing harsher penalties on Berlin businesses that have not paid or renewed their license fee was adopted at the Berlin mayor and Town Council meeting Monday night.

Town Administrator Laura Allen, who told the council that 14 businesses have yet to pay for their licenses, proposed the measure at the council’s April 8 session. The license costs $75 for businesses and $150 for banks.

One of the legislation’s stipulations requires publication of the names and businesses that have failed to pay up.

“I’m not big on public shaming anyone,” said Councilman Thom Gulyas. “You’re asking for a pint of blood and a pound of flesh.”

Gulyas gave his two cents seated at the table across from the other members of Berlin’s Mayor and Council.

Gulyas, owner of Ace Printing & Mailing, said it’s imperative to “keep the town business friendly.”

Councilman Dean Burrell interjected with a differing opinion.

“Is it business friendly to have staff repeatedly send a business invoice[s], call them on the phone, literally begging them to pay the $75?” he asked. “That works both ways.”

Gulyas agreed.

“And if we’re going to be business-friendly, business has to be friendly to us, and I think by honoring your obligation to pay the $75 within a timely measure is just being a good neighbor,” Burrell continued. “But if you’re not being a good neighbor, there needs to be ramifications, and you call it public shaming, I’ll call it motivation.”

Gulyas opted for another approach and volunteered to speak with the violators personally.

“Give me the word — I’ll be happy to go and do it,” Gulyas said.

As for the fines themselves, the ordinance states they would gradually increase:

  • If the bill is not paid within 30 days, there will be a 5 percent increase in the fee.
  • 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.

Additionally, the ordinance would permit the code enforcement officer to 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.”

During the public hearing, resident Jeff Smith questioned the placement of the citation in the ordinance.

“Why are we adding the teeth so late?” Smith asked.

Mayor Gee Williams replied,  “There’s no teeth in it because it was not acceptable [for] the people in this town to put teeth in,” Williams said. “And now we’re saying there has to be. There has to be some recourse…”

“It’s a simple question, you don’t need to get mad at me,” Smith said.

“My simple answer is it wasn’t done because it wasn’t acceptable to this community,” Williams said.

Smith then asked Williams what in the code applies to proprieties running a business without the proper paperwork.

“Nothing. That’s why we’re addressing this,” Williams said.

Councilman Zack Tyndall agreed with Smith, and suggested a motion to amend the ordinance, separating the citation from the fines.

However, his idea appeared to leave many in the room puzzled.

“I still don’t understand,” said Town Attorney David Gaskill.

Gaskill later recommended adding the citation to Section 8-22, which moves it closer to the front to a section that covers the license required, fee and transferability portion of the ordinance as opposed to the financial fees.

“I could live with that,” Tyndall replied.

Burrell moved to adopt the ordinance as amended, and it was unanimously approved.