Business licenses focus of Green Park committee

Chamber president believes business licenses not needed

By MIKE ANTHONY

Green Park Mayor Tony Konopka recently announced a committee will be established to study business licenses.

The committee will be comprised of residents and representatives of the business community with Ward 2 Alderman Tim Thuston serving as chairman, according to Konopka.

As proposed, a list of prospective committee members will be presented to the Board of Aldermen when it meets at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19, at City Hall, 11100 Mueller Road, Suite 3.

Green Park Chamber of Commerce President Jim Smoot, a historical opponent of business licenses, told the Call that he hopes the chamber will have some representation on the committee.

Konopka announced during the Oct. 15 Board of Aldermen meeting that the committee would be established and Thuston would serve as chairman.

Thuston said, “And my biggest concern — if I can say it — is I’ve heard repeatedly kind of teasers: ‘Yes, we’re looking. No, we’re not looking. We should. We shouldn’t.’ And I think the frustration of a lot of the businessmen and the citizens are: ‘What are we doing? And why aren’t we doing? Where do we go? How do we start?’

“And if there’s ever going to be anything like that, I would hate to see that we don’t take the action now to make sure if something was done, we didn’t have some clarity — if we did get something in place, it’s not a clear definition,” he continued.

“The Municipal League gave me a list of 43 different municipalities that have some sort of a license issuance in place. And I would hate — I mean I work for small businesses every day — and I would hate for us to penetrate or to really jump into their independence and put something in place that’s going to scare people away. I don’t think that’s what the intent is.

“So I just want to look at it. I’m not a big advocate nor a detractor to it. I think we should have some kind of regulation, some kind of a — something …,” Thuston said.

Ward 1 Alderman Judy Betlach asked, “When you’re doing your research with the Municipal League, can you also ask them how many of those municipalities have a big commercial complex like we do where they’re going to have that kind of strain on their infrastructure?”

Thuston said, “They have that. I have that … So I’m just starting. I just want to look at it and see what the other people are doing …”

Konopka said, “Could I suggest that any board member here with their ideas or suggestions just get with Tim and go over things with Tim that you’d like to see, and then Tim, you just keep us advised …”

Thuston said he hoped to present the names of committee members to the board when aldermen meet Nov. 19.

City Attorney Paul Rost said, “And I would assume at the next meeting when you have the volunteers that the board can then bless the formation of that committee with those members …”

City officials have discussed business licenses on and off since 1996, but never have established a requirement that city businesses obtain a license. Past discussions have ranged from establishing business licenses that included a provision for city merchants to pay the city an “annual license tax or fee” based upon each $1,000 of gross receipts or simply having an administrative business license.

Smoot, a small-business owner, remains opposed to business licenses, including an administrative business license.

“… They looked at this extensively just I think it was two years ago and the original need was for some kind of a list — to have some kind of a master list for businesses and it turns out that that list was available from several different sources. So that kind of died …,” he said of an administrative business license proposal previously rejected by city officials. “There are no giants of industry in this city. It’s pretty much filled up with mom-and-pop type of operators and they provide products and jobs and services to the citizens, and I don’t think that most people realize it until they start looking at the numbers, but a small-business owner pays a substantially higher revenue to the city than a resident does.

“For example, telephone, water, gas, sewer — all of those items are charged at a much higher commercial rate. Same with property taxes. So on a dollar-for-dollar basis, a small business pays a much higher proportion of taxes than a resident does. In addition to that, all of these businesses pay multiple license fees already. They pay them to the county. They pay them to the state. They pay them to the federal government. Many of them have multiple licenses. They have them from St. Louis County, the Missouri Department of Revenue — there’s multiple licenses that we can bring in a list of,” Smoot said.

“And, quite frankly, the businesses receive less services from the city. For example, all of your residents get free trash service now in the city of Green Park. Certainly the businesses don’t receive that type of amenity. So the idea of having another tax, another layer of red tape, more paperwork, a burden on the small-business man really is just unacceptable and the chamber hopes to participate in that committee and shed a little bit more light on the true situation of what a small-business man has to pay. I know a lot of people think: ‘Well, if you have a small business that you’re on vacation all the time or that you work only when you want to work’ and that’s just not the case,” he said.

The chamber president believes not having a business license will help the city attract more businesses.

“… Green Park is in a unique position. They have a lot of businesses as compared to the number of residents that they have,” Smoot said. “Those businesses, if you look at the (city) treasurer’s report, those businesses contribute a tremendous amount to the general revenue fund of the city of Green Park and instead of being a follower, saying: ‘Well, you know, Crestwood has a business license or Sunset Hills has a business license.’ I would hope that Green Park would continue to be a leader and set some new precedents and invite more businesses into the city by saying: ‘Hey, listen, we don’t have a business license here. We’re welcoming free enterprise into our city.’

“And if you look at every major thoroughfare, every commercial corridor right now in the south county area, you will notice that there is a substantial number of vacancies and when a businessman is looking to go into a specific city, hopefully Green Park can open its arms and say: ‘Come to our city. Open your business here. We don’t have a business license. That’s one less burden on you, the small-business man.’ Now in return for that, they’ll get the revenue from that business. They’ll get the jobs, the product, the services and hopefully we can fill some of those vacancies.”