Maple Valley City Council to consider business license ordinance

The city of Maple Valley is considering an ordinance that would require all businesses operating within the city limits to get a business license.

To that end a business license ordinance was introduced to the City Council at its meeting on Monday.

According to City Manager David Johnston, if passed, all businesses in the city would have to get a business license. Johnston stated that the license would cost around $50, with all the money going towards paying for the license program.

"We're not here to make money," Johnston said. "We used the words 'revenue neutral.' It's just the program will pay for the cost of the programs. Some cities have $150 licenses. They do that solely to have a revenue stream. We're not anticipating that. City Council instructed it to be revenue neutral."

Johnston stated further that the city would probably use the state licensing service to avoid having to add more staff to the city. Under Washington state law, every business has to get a state license to operate.

Johnston stated there were several reasons a city business license, one of which was public safety and security.

"It gives us a database of safety we can use and an economic standpoint that tells us what services are in the city," he said. "Not every business is a member of the chamber of commerce. City governments do not necessarily know when a new business sets up … we don't. And lots of times the only way we may know is if staff passes by or frequents it or we get a complaint asking if this is proper land use. Other than that business open up all the time."

Mayor Bill Allison, who served on the public oversight committee, stated in a telephone interview that the idea of a business license came up after concerns had been raised about transient salesmen operating in neighborhoods.

"The citizens said, 'Hey I'm feeling very uncomfortable about this,'" he said. "We initiated ordinances that make door to door salesmen come in and get background checks with the city. However, we have to readdress the business license because it's hard to regulate just one type of business, and we put ourselves basically into some litigation risk if we only regulate one type of business."

Among those on the City Council pushing for a business license is Sean Kelly, who believes it will help both the city and businesses.

"We (will) know what businesses are in the city so we can help them," he said. "We'd like to know what's in the city and where. If we have a sexual predator, we need to know where they're at and what's around them, like a daycare center. We know where schools are at, but there are some daycare centers we don't know (about). If something happens to that business in the middle of the night, we need to be able to get a hold of that person."

In September of last year, a business was damaged when a car drove into it. According to both Johnston and Kelly, it took the police and fire department over an hour to contact the owner.


Opposition from business owners

The proposal has met with resistance from the business community, including Greater Maple Valley-Black Diamond Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sue VanRuff, who questioned whether or not a business license is necessary for public safety.

"The chamber has asked repeatedly for the opportunity to have preliminary conversations to better understand the city’s reasoning behind the need for a business license program especially right now, in this economy," she wrote in an email interview. "In conversations with both the city manager and police chief, it’s a matter of public safety, regulation, and enforcement. We would like to better understand those issues and we would also like to know the associated cost to businesses, the scope of the program, and the overall intent of regulation."

The chamber's board president, Kevin Patterson, also opposes the idea of a business license and stated that there are other ways to obtain the information other than a license.

"One big part of it is the timing," he said in a telephone interview. "We're just beginning to come out of the recession and to add another fee or tax to businesses, even if it's a small one, is just not very desirable. Even though it's probably not a lot of money, businesses have a number of these kinds of things they're required to pay and adding one more doesn't seem to continue to encourage economic growth. It just seems like the timing isn't right for this."

Other business owners, such as Leslie Westover, who owns Westover Auto Rebuild with her husband, questioned whether a business license would ultimately be revenue neutral.

"This business license you guys say you need…is for the citizens' security and information gathering," she said. "Yet I hear these little comments come from some of the councilors that do tell me that it is a source of revenue. I hear little words coming in. I don’t know if it’s going to be shown on the record, but there are some sentences slipping in and out that makes it crystal clear that there are alternative motives."

Additionally, Westover said it is "naive" to think a business license would bring compliance on the part of businesses that aren't operating legally.

"Anybody who is applying for a business who is on the fringe…they’re not going to march into the city," she said. "How are you going to make them compliant? You don’t even know that they’re there. They’re going to make me apply, because I’m out in the open and legal, but there’s a whole lot people running under the radar who aren’t going to do it. If they have half a brain, they won’t do it."

Cheryl Castagna, a realtor, said she already has enough licenses to pay and that a license would drive realtors away from Maple Valley.

"You’re not going to get real estates agents from Bellevue to come down here and get a business license to show two houses," she said. "It’s not going to happen. You can’t just keep knocking us down us realtors."

Many of the business community's concerns, Johnston said, are valid. For example, even though the business license as is not designed to generate revenue, another City Council in the future could change that.

"In times like this I can't blame people for bringing it up," he said. "Some cities do do it. But right now our city isn't proposing to do it."

If a business license is approved, Johnston stated it will be four to six months before the law would go into effect. In the meantime, Kelly stated, the City Council intends to discuss the idea in an open forum or open house.

"We're going to sit down and have some round table meetings to talk about their concerns," Kelly said. "I'm always up for listening to concerns, because there may be concerns I don't know about."


Exemptions to business license

  • 1. Minors doing business or operating a business concern where no other person is employed by the minor, including newspaper carriers under age 18.
  • 2. The United States or any instrumentality thereof and the State of Washington or any municipal subdivision thereof.
  • 3. Religious organizations.
  • 4. Charitable or nonprofit organizations or corporations which have received tax exempt status under 26 U.S.C. 501(c)(3) and have registered as a charitable organization pursuant to Ch. 19.09 RCW, or other similar civic, charitable or nonprofit organizations.
  • 5. Farmers who peddle fruit, vegetables, berries, eggs, or any farm produce or edibles raised, gathered, produced or manufactured by such person, provided that nothing herein authorizes any person to sell, deliver or peddle any dairy product, meat, poultry, eel, fish, mollusk or shellfish without a license.
  • 6. Peddlers operating at a properly permitted Saturday or “farmers” market so long as the activity does not occur more than one time per week for more than five months of each calendar year; and provided further, that the name, address and telephone number of each peddler is provided in advance to the City of Maple Valley to be maintained in the City records.
  • 7. Sales conducted as "fundraisers" for youth athletic, scouting, or for school programs serving grades K through 12. By way of illustration and not limitation, these organizations may include boy scouts and girl scouts, youth soccer, youth basketball, youth football, youth softball, and other youth athletic organizations.
  • 8. The organizers of a permitted special event may apply for a special license which will eliminate the need for individual business licenses for all vendors operating at the special event under the authority of the special license. Special licenses shall be valid only on the days authorized for the special event and shall be subject to the applicable provisions of Ch. 5.05 MVMC.
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