Green Park business-license panel meets Monday

Panel member representing businesses says city putting cart before horse

By MIKE ANTHONY

The chairman of a Green Park committee studying business licenses hopes to have the city’s treasurer address the panel when it meets next week.

Chairman Tim Thuston told committee members last month that he hoped to have Green Park Treasurer Mike Williams of Hochschild, Bloom & Co. address the panel when it meets at 7 p.m. Monday, April 14, at City Hall, 11100 Mueller Road.

The Board of Aldermen voted in November to establish the panel to study business licenses and named Thuston chairman.

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.

Business representatives on March 18 again voiced their opposition to establishing a business license.

Committee member Ed Gapsch of Gapsch CARSTAR Collision Center said, “I’ve been kind of listening for the last couple of meetings and what’s really — what I find confusing, you’re talking of a license, you don’t know how much. But the biggest thing is you really don’t know why … It seems like you’re putting the cart before the horse. You’re talking about a license, but you don’t know why you’re talking of a license.

“It seems to me that you would figure out that there’s something that you want to do and that could be I want a list (of businesses) or it could be I want to fund something or whatever it might be, you have a purpose. And then you go back and say: OK, now we need a license. We’re going to calculate it as such. You’re asking us how to calculate a license for what purpose? There’s no need yet. Create the need. I have a need and then you can talk about a license and how much you want to fund it by.

“Maybe you could come up with something that the business community and the citizens would say: Wow, that’s really cool. And you’d sell it … But right now, you’re selling nothing. Why are you talking of a license if you don’t know what you want?”

Thuston said, “I don’t disagree.”

Gapsch said, “It just seems so backward.”

Participants at previous meetings have identified future costs of expansion and maintenance of streets as one reason to generate more revenue through business-license fees. Business owners and representatives have questioned the need for the city to establish business licenses, citing the Green Park Commerce Center’s willingness to take on street maintenance and their own objections to paying additional fees to the city for a license.

City Attorney Paul Rost and legal counsel for the Commerce Center separately are researching whether the center’s streets can be privately maintained.

Green Park Chamber of Commerce President Jim Smoot, a self-proclaimed “historical proponent of free enterprise,” said if infrastructure needs are the issue, city officials have a way to address the situation.

“… The city has the power to correct their infrastructure with a simple mechanism,” he said. “They can either issue a bond or they can borrow money based on the amount of income that is coming in through the sales tax and through the county pool, and the interest rates are so ridiculously low at this point, 3.5 percent, that they can say: OK, our infrastructure needs over the next 10 years are going to be $5 million. But we don’t want to wait 10 years to get that infrastructure. Let’s get it now. Let’s fix the problems now.

“You can borrow the money or issue a bond, just like a school district does or anybody else, any other government, and you can get the benefits of that infrastructure right now and you pay for it out of your sales tax that is coming in, which is virtually guaranteed money …”

Ward 3 Alderman Mark Hayden is opposed to establishing a business license.

“Basically, we were at the exact same place in 2003 as we are today,” he said. “We gathered a lot of information. We looked at other cities … And basically we ended up with the exact same questions I’ve heard from over here. What are we going to do with it? What do we need it for and why do we want it? And there were no answers …”

Noting that he agreed with Gapsch, Hayden said a plan is needed “before we go: Let’s just take your money and we’ll put it in the bank and we’ll figure out how to spend it …”

Thuston said, “In 2003, not to disrespect that study that was done back then, it wasn’t followed through, as I understand it. It was studied, put together and it wasn’t presented.”

He asked former Mayor Steve Armstrong what happened with the report that was done in 2003.

“… The report was prepared by basically the city administrator and myself,” Armstrong said. “We basically collected all the data and put it before the board, and it was really driven by a couple of aldermen, (former) Alderman (Judy) Betlach, in particular, and basically the board just simply didn’t act on it. It was really no discussion …”

Thuston asked Armstrong why no action was taken.

“Ask the rest of the board members. They’re the ones who didn’t act on it,” the former mayor said. “But it was prepared and they simply didn’t respond to it at all. It was basically pushed by Alderman Betlach … A lot of time was spent writing the report, but in the end, the board really never discussed it …”

Hayden interjected, “Actually, there was and that’s incorrect. We were just starting to receive money from the capital-improvement tax … We got some money in. We don’t even know how much we’re going to get. We don’t know how much it’s going to benefit. I made a motion to table it. At the end of the year, then let’s take a look at it at that point to see how the capital-improvement tax was coming in … And that was the end of it …”

Board of Aldermen President Anthony Pousosa of Ward 1 noted that if the city is required to pay for street maintenance in the Commerce Center, that cost could total as much as $1.5 million. And that’s in addition to the many other infrastructure needs that already exist in the city.

While the city has a surplus of funds now, there’s no guarantee that always will be the case, he said.

“… I think we need to look at getting a plan in place so if everything falls through, it would be something that would be agreeable on all parts and not just taking money from the businesses because I don’t want that,” Pousosa said. “We need to have something in place to protect the residents here, which I represent, like I said in the past. We have — at least in my ward, a majority of the people that I represent are seniors …”