Pocatello mulls joining Chubbuck in requiring city licenses for businessesNov 28th, 2016 | By Copydesk | Category: Featured
By Sarah Glenn/For the Journal
POCATELLO — Where Pocatello ends and Chubbuck begins isn’t always crystal clear. For decades, the neighboring cities have worked seamlessly together to build business and incubate economic growth.
“We don’t just say it, we mean it with all our hearts: what’s good for Pocatello is good for Chubbuck and what’s good for Chubbuck is good for Pocatello,” said Chubbuck Mayor Kevin England.
Despite the similarities, there is one major difference for businesses opening in the two cities: Chubbuck requires a city business license, Pocatello does not.
After decades of doing things this way, Pocatello’s leaders are now pondering the benefits of implementing city business licensing. Throughout October and November, the city asked more than 340 business owners to respond to a survey to gauge public opinion on licensing.
Results of that survey will be presented to the Pocatello City Council at its Dec. 8 study session. At the meeting, the council will give direction to staff on how to proceed.
“If they say no, that will be the end of the discussion and no further action will be taken,” said Terri Neu, assistant planner for the city of Pocatello. “If they say yes, an ordinance will be drafted and public hearings will be held before the City Council.”
The change could potentially make hundreds of Pocatello business owners pay a minimum $25 fee and fall in line with what Chubbuck has been doing for decades.
Some are concerned that requiring a city license would stifle growth.
“The City of Pocatello needs to stay out of the private sector,” Trevor Lee Delaney said on the Journal’s Facebook page. “The State of Idaho already licenses businesses, there is no need for redundant, burdensome regulation! If the mayor and the city council want to kill future job growth and stop any new businesses from coming to Pocatello, then this is the best way to do it.”
Others wonder where the fees would go.
“Feels like another way to take money ‘legally’ to me,” Tim England said on Facebook.
Neu admits that she hears many concerns about the added cost and regulation.
“The biggest concern we are hearing is that this would be an additional fee placed on businesses,” Neu said.
While nothing has been decided on yet, the potential fee structure would be similar to Chubbuck’s. According to Paul Andrus, Chubbuck’s city planner, the fee for a general business license is $25. Andrus adds that most businesses carry that general license. In Chubbuck, those licenses have to be renewed annually. The city license is in addition to the mandatory state business license all establishments across Idaho are required to carry.
According to Andrus, Chubbuck has been requiring business licensing since about 1953. Today, about 768 Chubbuck businesses hold a city license. The general license costs $25 per year. But other fees could increase that price. For example, liquor licensing or a temporary vendor license costs a bit more, Andrus explained.
“But most come under that general business license,” Andrus said.
The rule would be entirely new for Pocatello. City leaders could not remember a time when Pocatello ever required a city business license.
“I think business licensing has been grand,” England said. “It has been a really good thing for our city.”
City planners in both Pocatello and Chubbuck agree that there are some benefits that outweigh the cost of the license.
“It helps us know who is here and gives the police and fire department contacts in case of emergencies,” Andrus said. “It helps us protect the good people who are here from businesses who just come in, take advantage and leave. It also helps us check on zoning and make sure that’s all correct.”
Several years ago, England remembers exactly one such business that hurt local homeowners. The unlicensed group of men offered to come oil the shake shingles on your roof.
“But they were just using reclaimed motor oil and it just made a huge mess,” England said. “We shut them down for not having a business license.”
Why is this being talked about now?
According to Neu, there have been some shady, fly-by-night business practices in Pocatello that are prompting the city to start this conversation. The other major catalyst was input from the police and fire departments.
“Several city departments have expressed that a registration/license system could improve their operations,” Neu said. “For example, the Pocatello Fire Department is responsible for inspecting all businesses for life and safety hazards, as well as ensuring compliance with fire code. Currently, the department has no way of knowing what businesses are operating in Pocatello unless they see a business firsthand or one is reported to the department.”
Pollution control and economic development would also benefit from the new rule, Neu added.
“The system would also help the city’s Water Pollution Control Department ensure that businesses are not discharging contaminants into the city sewer system in violation of our federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit,” Neu said. “On the economic development front, it would provide a database of existing businesses that could be passed along to other businesses that are looking to set up shop in Pocatello.”
The other major problem city planners have come across is having to shake up a business because it is unknowingly violating code.
“(Currently) some businesses unknowingly start operating before meeting the life and safety requirements under the fire code,” Neu said. “It’s not until after an inspection by firefighters these business owners find out they must make additional improvements to their establishment to ensure the health and safety of their patrons. With a registration/license system, potential business owners would have all city requirements (such as occupancy limits, required safety equipment, sign permits, alcohol licensing restrictions, etc.) explained to them before an investment is made and they begin operation.”
In Chubbuck, Andrus has run into the same problem. However, they try to apply the brakes to an operation as soon as they see from the license application that there may be an issue. For example, Andrus shared stories of someone trying to run a store in a residential area or making plans to build where the zoning would have prohibited business.
“It just helps keep things organized,” Andrus said.
How does it work in Chubbuck?
The Chubbuck application for a general business license is three pages long and requires a notary’s signature. The basic business license costs $25, however additional operations could make that cost climb. A daycare license, for example, is in excess of $100.
Once the business owner turns in the application, Andrus makes sure everything is on the up and up. The city looks at zoning designations, safety codes and other aspects that might make the business run askew of the law.
“It takes a little bit of work,” Andrus said. “Probably costs us more than we charge, but there are some intangible benefits to the city there too.”
Throughout the approval process, the Chubbuck fire and police departments also get a look at the application to see if anything looks wrong from their end.
Andrus estimated that Chubbuck processes about 60-100 applications per year. That number includes the businesses that are required to renew their license annually.
“We’ve held pretty steady around six or seven hundred,” Andrus said of the number of applications they process. “There really hasn’t been a big jump in the past year.”
The licenses have value, according to England.
“I operated a business for 30 years in Chubbuck and I had a business license so I can talk about it from that end too,” England said. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to say about their business ‘We are fully licensed and insured.’ People would ask me sometimes to see my business license, not often but sometimes. It was nice to give them that peace of mind. … from the city’s perspective it gives us the opportunity to have some organization. I just know in this community we have never heard any complaints about it. To me it was a benefit to have that license on the wall.”
Pocatello’s survey closed on Nov. 17.
More details about how Chubbuck operates its business licensing are included in its city Code, Chapter 5, or by clicking on this link http://www.sterlingcodifiers.com/codebook/index.php?book_id=632