Green Park aldermen discuss amount of administrative fee for city businesses

Mayor agitated so few citizens attended committee meetings

By BURKE WASSON

The amount of a future administrative fee for Green Park businesses likely would be based on the city’s cost to compile a list of those businesses into a directory.

During a recent aldermanic work session, board members discussed various ways to establish the administrative fee, which was the recommended result after several meetings earlier this year of a business-license committee established by the board.

City Attorney Paul Rost estimated at the work session that the annual fee for businesses would be roughly $30 to $50 based on the manpower it would take to collect those fees and compile a directory.

At the June aldermanic work session, Mayor Tony Konopka indicated that some industrial businesses in the Green Park Commerce Center would be willing to pay an annual fee of $200 to $250.

At the same time, aldermen are looking for a way to distinguish the fee of those larger businesses from smaller shops.

Ward 2 Alderman Tim Thuston, who chaired the city’s business-license committee, has shared a preference for an administrative fee to be used to develop a business directory over implementing a business-license structure.

Thuston told residents at a May Board of Aldermen meeting that because of the ambiguous nature and variety of business-license structures throughout St. Louis County, he recommends an administrative fee rather than imposing licenses.

Aldermen voted in November to establish the panel to study business licenses and named Thuston chairman. The committee began meeting in January.

City officials have discussed business licenses on and off since 1996 and as recently as 2003, but never have established a requirement that city businesses obtain a license or pay an annual fee. 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.

At a spring meeting of the committee, Green Park Chamber of Commerce President Jim Smoot said chamber members “voted that they would be happy to pay an annual registration fee.”

Thuston believes that an administrative fee for businesses could be used as a service to both businesses and residents as the city could promote them through a directory.

“Let’s know who’s here and what types of businesses we have,” Thuston said. “We could promote the businesses. The chamber said they’re all for promoting the businesses. But the chamber’s been around for I don’t know how many years, and I don’t see them doing any type of promotion … They haven’t done a very good job at promoting the businesses.”

To do that, city officials are looking to hire an additional administrative employee.

After some aldermen made administrative requests for a list of rental properties in the city as well as a business directory to be funded through an administrative fee on businesses, board members agreed at the work session to explore the option of adding a part-time or full-time city employee within the next three months.

Konopka said that the city’s administrative office currently has the equivalent of 1.5 employees. With that extra employee in place, the city could follow through on Thuston’s recommendation for a business directory as soon as next year.

“I believe if we put together some sort of a registration cost … it gives us a start to have some grasp of who’s doing what where,” Thuston said. “As it stands right now … we don’t know. I think we’ve got to start somewhere and at least have an idea of which businesses are where.

“I challenged a couple of the guys, including the chamber, to come up with some sort of directory or an accurate assessment of where the businesses are. No one could come up with one. We could look at the (Mehlville) fire department’s lists or the county occupancy lists or the utilities lists.

“But I believe that we have a responsibility to our citizens as a city to know where the businesses are in our city. Who are they? I don’t think we’ve got an accurate handle on who they are.”

Reflecting on this year’s business-license committee meetings, board members said they were disappointed at the low turnout by residents compared to businesses.

Because part of the reason for establishing the business-license committee was to address some residents’ requests for such licenses, Konopka said he was agitated that so few attended the series of meetings.

“Something that frustrated me to no end was where were these people who wanted a business license?” he said. “Where were the people who wanted this money generated? All I saw at the meetings were the businesses. I saw it as just a (gripe) session. I really didn’t see anything happening or being accomplished other than businesses complaining.”

Some of the concerns Thuston has identified as part of the series of committee meetings were:

• How to spend money generated from business-license fees.

• How much the assessment of a business license would cost to administer.

• The “huge disparity in the types and impositions of business licenses throughout the 91 municipalities in St. Louis County.” Of St. Louis County’s 44 fourth-class cities like Green Park, 25 have some form of business licenses and most have a type of registration.

“It’s kind of like throwing darts at a dart board,” Thuston said. “There’s no continuity. It’s not simple. In order for us as a city our size … to administrate any of these types of business licenses based upon square footage or based upon sales, et cetera … I just think it would cost more to keep track of that.”

Another concern mentioned during meetings has been generating revenue to repair and maintain streets.

Adding that he also wished there was more citizen input on the business licenses, Thuston concluded that his recommendation is for an annual administrative fee on businesses with no licenses attached.

“We had tremendous amount of participation from the businesses and not a lot from the citizens,” he said. “I don’t know how much the citizens would really give us any more than what we had in 2003.

“It’s my recommendation, and just from conversations I’ve had with the Chamber of Commerce and the business community, they felt that having a registration only and not a business license would be the best way to go,” he said. “There were a lot of conversations. The commerce center guys actually came forward. They were willing to take over and privatize the streets over there and pay for and be responsible for streets so they wouldn’t have to do a business license.”