Green Park business-license panel set to study three issues

Chamber of Commerce president urges consideration of hike in capital-improvement sales tax

By BURKE WASSON

A Green Park committee established to study business licenses will study three issues before submitting any recommendations to the Board of Aldermen.

Residents and business leaders who attended the committee’s Feb. 18 meeting devised areas to study in March and April.

Board of Aldermen President Anthony Pousosa of Ward 1 will study the city’s future cost of maintaining streets at the Green Park Commerce Center once it is filled. That added cost has been stated as one reason why city officials should study the effects of gaining additional revenue from business-license fees.

City officials also will study how other St. Louis County fourth-class cities like Green Park handle business licenses. Committee Chairman Tim Thuston said last week that of 44 fourth-class cities in the county, 26 cities have a fee-based structure for business licenses.

The group also will study the possibility of asking voters to increase the city’s half-cent capital-improvement sales tax instead of seeking voter approval of business-license fees as a way to generate additional revenue.

While the city has the authority to license businesses, any fees charged in connection with such licenses would have to be approved by voters.

The business-license committee will meet Thursday, March 6; Tuesday, March 18; and Monday, April 14. All meetings will take place at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 11100 Mueller Road, Suite 3.

The cost of maintaining Green Park Commerce Center streets will be identified March 6, the comparison to other fourth-class cities will take place March 18 and discussion of possibly asking voters to increase the city’s capital-improvement sales tax will occur April 14.

The Board of Aldermen voted in November to establish the committee to study business licenses and named Thus-ton chairman. At that time, Thuston announced five appointments with Don Bley, Cindy Summers and Jack Mika representing residents and Jeff Budrovich and Hank Block representing businesses.

Since then, the chairman has named Bill Fant of Shop ‘n Save, Ed Gapsch of Gapsch CARSTAR Collision Center and Dennis Shaw of Neighbors Credit Union to the committee. Thuston also has sought additional citizen 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.

Green Park Chamber of Commerce President Jim Smoot, a historical opponent of business licenses, proposed at last week’s meeting that the city should consider raising its capital-improvement sales tax instead of adding licenses for businesses.

“Instead of all this: ‘Well, how much should a barber shop get charged?’ or ‘How much should a business on Lindbergh get charged when they don’t get any street maintenance whatsoever?’, if this capital-improvement sales tax worked so well for the last 10 years, why aren’t we talking about a slight in-crease in the capital-improvement tax?” Smoot said. “All these people that drive up and down Lindbergh — 60,000 cars a day — and 44,000 cars a day on Tesson Ferry, they’re stopping and buying stuff at all these businesses. And Green Park gets that money. How much money would we get if we had a .75-percent capital-improvement tax instead of a .50 (percent) capital-improvement tax?”

Pousosa views business licenses as a way to deal with potential costs down the road at the Green Park Commerce Center, which will have maintenance of its streets taken over by the city once it is fully occupied. He is concerned that with that extra responsibility as well as the city’s aging infrastructure, the city’s cash surplus reserve of roughly $4 million will take a hit in future years if city leaders don’t start planning for alternatives now.

“Once we do take over the Commerce Center and it’s completely full, we’re going to have to deal with snow removal, crack sealing, street replacement, signs, striping, among other things,” Pousosa said. “We want to make sure that we have the revenue in place because sure, we have a surplus now. But as all of our infrastructure starts to age, we’re going to start pulling money out of the general fund.

“And the general fund is going to go over budget and over budget. And pretty soon, I guarantee you, in 15 years we’re going to be having the same problems here as they’ve had in Crestwood. We’ll be running deficits. And we need to find a way to implement something that prevents that from happening.”

Thuston stressed last week that he does not want the efforts of this committee to essentially go to waste like he believes they did with another group that studied the issue of business licenses in 2003.

“Our need is to study it and figure out how to let people know what it is we’re studying and why we’re studying it,” Thuston said. “Ultimately, we need to let our citizens know why we’re looking at this instead of just letting it run by and saying: ‘Oh, we studied it’ and nothing happens.”

And while he recognizes businesses’ concerns with the added fees associated with potential business licenses, Thuston said because he was elected to serve residents, he would represent their interests by believing in some form of a business license.

“I could argue in favor of the business league because I understand their point,” Thuston said. “I could argue in favor of the citizens because I understand their point. Big businessman and little businessman … Everybody’s got a different kind of business, and that’s the real dilemma that we all have. My issue on this is I represent businesses in my regular life and, yes, I do understand and am concerned about the businesses and what this would mean adding revenue to their outflow and so forth. It’s not something that’s easy for them to digest.

“But also remember that we as aldermen represent the citizens and not the businesses specifically. The best interests of the citizens are my best interests as well. And that’s why I was elected to represent the citizens. And I as a citizen and as a representative of the citizens, I firmly believe in business licenses in some way, shape or form.

“How we do it and how we administrate it, that’s the kind of things I think we all need to figure out.”

At the same time, Smoot believes that the city should promote free enterprise instead of modeling a business-license structure after other fourth-class cities.

“What can Green Park do to be a leader?” Smoot said. “Why do we have to be followers of everybody? Why can’t we say free enterprise is welcome here?”

“Let me stop you right there,” Thuston said. “When you say ‘we,’ do you live in Green Park?”

“No, sir, I don’t,” Smoot said. “I live in south county.”

“My point is this,” Thuston said. “I think if you look at all the businesses in Green Park and look at how many employees actually live in Green Park, I think you would be really surprised. This city is the responsibility of the citizens.

“The businesses do business here as basically a benefit to the community. And it’s the responsibility of the citizens to make sure it’s a comfortable environment for the businesses. If the businesses really respected the city and they thought the city was a good, progressive city, they would not only promote it, but they’d live here.”

“Well, they can’t just move their house,” Smoot said.

“They can sell it,” Thuston said.

“That’s kind of a silly point,” Smoot said.

“It’s not …,” Thuston said. “It’s not a silly point. If you’ve got a nice neighborhood and you’re making a good community in it and you’re fully and totally in honor of making it a good community, you’re going to move there. And you’re going to want to see the environment of the city not be a commerce center, but be a good city.”