Business owners oppose, Orangeburg County defends license proposal

August 2, 2017
Orangeburg County, SC

By John Mack | T&D Staff Writer

Angry business owners filled Orangeburg County Council Chambers on Monday to complain about plans to create a new countywide business license requirement.

They argued that the county budget has room for cuts and that the new cost would hurt businesses.

“If you don’t drop this proposal and try not to pass this bill, you’re going to have a lot of companies that’s not going to start businesses in your county,” Kenny Beason said.

County Councilman Clyde Livingston died Monday, but council went ahead with a public hearing on the proposal because a large number of people were already planning to attend. Council will not take further action the proposed ordinance until sometime following Livingston’s funeral.

Businessman Joe Rich said Monday that the business license fee will place a massive burden on taxpayers.

“The cost to administer this program is well over $250,000,” he said.

He said the burden should be spread throughout the county or cuts to the budget should be made.

The business license is expected to raise more than $1 million for the county budget. County officials say they would have to increase taxes by four mills to raise a similar amount through a property tax increase. State law doesn’t allow the county to increase taxes that much in one year.

“If we were just doing the millage, then this room would be filled with people who were saying the county shouldn’t raise the millage,” County Administrator Harold Young said.

Young said the revenue generated by the business license ordinance would go only for additional salaries for law enforcement and emergency services.

“If we did nothing, then we would still have sheriff’s deputies and EMS personnel who would say that we’re not going to be able to maintain and recruit new officers because of the fact that our funding is not adequate in those areas,” Young said.

Several citizens were concerned because the business license fee will be based on gross income, not net income.

Jose Rivera with the S.C. Commission for Minority Affairs said, “The stress that this bill would have on farmers is unbelievable.”

Sheryl Jackson said this is not a pro-business message.

Young said, “The only reason we’re doing it by gross income, which we do not want to do that, is because the state law requires us to calculate by gross income.”

Young said on a gross income of $100,000, most businesses would pay $98.50 per year. Those taking in $200,000 would pay $173.50.

“If you have a business located inside a city or town and do not operate in the county, you will not need a county license,” he added. “If you pay for a business license to another city, county or town, the gross income will be reduced by the amount the other license was paid on.”

One concern raised dealt with roadside produce sellers.

“If you sell produce at a roadside stand or vendor, you do not need a license,” Young said. If you are a property owner and wish to sell your trees to a logger, you do not need a license.

An owner of multiple businesses could pay for just one business license if he chooses to pay the cap.

Charles Inglet believes the business license will “suppress economic activity.”

“It may not suppress it so much at the high end, but this is going to hurt the little guy,” Inglet said.

Tonya Branham, a finance professional, said she has spent 15-plus years in Orangeburg County and has reviewed the county’s budget.

“There is generally room to cut something,” Branham said.

She told council and Young that she would be willing to meet to find where areas of the budget can be cut.

“If you’ve got a budget that’s out of balance, do what we do: Find where you can cut and if you can’t cut and you can’t get that four mills you need, well then you’re just either going to have to live with it or spread it over everybody in this county, not just the businesses,” Glenn Hutto said.

Hutto added that this “is not any kind of a strategy to attract any businesses.”

Young said he is certainly open to discuss the budget or what may need to be cut, but the county has already gone through the process.

“When you talk about cuts, the citizens would have to be willing to do without some services because in some areas of the general fund, most of the areas of that fund are dealing with services and if you make cuts, that would impact the services in a lot of ways,” Young said. “If citizens would say they’re willing to do without certain services, then by all means.”

He said cuts had been made to expenditures just to balance the budget.

“Before we even started the process, if we only gave the departments exactly what they had the year before, then we were already in a hole because the state required us to go 2 percent above last year’s calculation on the retirement fund,” Young said.

Rich said council is mismanaging the budget.

Young said, “If you look at the trends in the county, fiscal budget as well as the county’s audits that are out there, you will definitely see a trend of the county being in a better financial situation than they were.”

He added that in the past four years, the state has continued to make cuts to the local government fund.

“Every year, they gave us less money through the local government fund,” Young said. “That equates to 13 mills that we had to do without … but we did not cut a service or let go of a person.”

The council has been in this position before.

“Years ago, we put in the subdivision ordinance and people said, ‘Putting in a subdivision ordinance is going to kill this town. Nobody else is going to every build another house,’” Young said.

He said they went back and created the zoning ordinances which also drew a large crowd believing it would “kill Orangeburg County.”

“A lot of these decisions may not be popular, but sometimes they’re necessary and you’re not going to always respect it or understand it,” he said. “Our goal is for us to do a better job of helping the citizens understand why and listening.”

“The public is not going to agree with every decision that’s made but at the end of the day, County Council has done the best of what they thought they could and so have I in trying to make decisions for this community,” Young added.

Contact the writer: [email protected] or 803-533-5516.