Area professionals challenge business license proposal

November 19, 2018
Enterprise, AL

By Josh Richards

Two individual public hearings were held on Tuesday, Nov. 13, regarding the possibility of increasing business license fees to support the cost of running the city.

At the second hearing, held from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Enterprise Civic Center, many area professionals discussed the proposed increase with council members and representatives from PREMA Corp, a firm hired by the city to analyze and collect business license fees.

Attorney Paul Young asked if the city currently had a budget shortfall.

Councilman Turner Townsend said the recently-passed budget was balanced but did not include any money for capital projects, which include repaving projects and purchasing new equipment for city departments. Projected currently planned include a proposed recreation center and a repaving project.

Attorney Carmen Howell said the city should consider alternatives such as Sunday alcohol sales to fund capital projects, rather than putting the burden “on the backs of businesses” in the community.

Both Howell and Young agreed another stipulation of the proposal, a gross receipt requirement, was not welcomed, considering the nature of attorney-client privilege or doctor-patient confidentiality.

“I don’t think that’s anybody’s business,” Young said. “I think the doctors and the lawyers feel the same way.”

Per Townsend’s proposal and PREMA Corp’s recommendation, fees would be based on rate schedules and gross receipt percentages.

“If you establish whatever your top bracket is on a professional license and somebody walks in and writes a check for that -- $500 or whatever it is -- then I don’t see why in the world they should have to turn over their gross receipts,” Young said. “… I resent the fact that anybody wants that.”

Howell said the Alabama State Bar doesn’t require that information from attorneys, and it should also be considered that area professionals do not charge sales tax on their services.

“First of all, I apologize if ya’ll resent that,” Townsend said. “(With) my business … we’ve been reporting gross receipts for 42 years … I did not understand that would be an offensive suggestion.”

Townsend said, under the proposal, every professional operating in a firm or medical practice would be under one business license, rather than being required to obtain individual licenses, effectively saving money.

Howell said while her business license fee might be a minor increase -- Townsend said it could be as low as $12 in her case -- she was not convinced that the council had not considered alternatives that would not affect the business community.

Dr. Beverly Jordan, a physician in Enterprise and president of the city’s medical society, said she was concerned an increase would affect physicians in a community already experiencing a shortage.

“…When we see additional fees … and (making us) subjects to audits of gross receipts, these things are all impediments to recruiting new physicians,” she said. “I have to remind (physicians) of the businesses we have … The big box stores, the great hometown stores. We don’t want to do anything to lose those types of businesses, because that’s a big part of what keeps physicians in and recruits physicians to our community.”

She said data shows every physician placed in a community brings two million worth of revenue because of nurses, medications, pharmacy and business support.

Per the proposal, no business would see more than a 15 percent increase next year, except for restaurants generating more than $1.75 million and retail and auto dealers earning more than $5 million.

Vickers said fees have not been adjusted in over 40 years, and Councilman Eugene Goolsby reminded everyone that capital expenditures included replacing worn out equipment throughout the city.

Many residents, at both hearings, asked for greater clarification of proposed changes and a precise definition of gross receipts.

The council has made no official proposal, as Townsend’s proposal was intended as reference. No action has been taken.

If a new business license ordinance is approved, it would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.