City considers requiring a general business license

December 21, 2016
Pocatello, ID

By Debbie Bryce For the Journal

POCATELLO — Pocatello City Council members heard the pros and the cons about implementing general business licensing throughout the city at a study session Thursday.

Following the discussion, council directed city staff to work up a draft ordinance and reach out to area businesses, providing education on the benefits and drawbacks of business licensing. According to city planner Terri Neu, public hearings on the matter are still at least one year away. If approved in future council meetings, implementation would be at least two years down the road.

Both Neu and Pocatello Fire Department Chief David Gates estimate that about 3,000 to 3,500 businesses operate within city limits.

“But that’s the hard part — without requiring a (city) business license, we really don’t know for sure,” Gates said.

Currently, businesses such as daycare facilities, alcohol sellers and taxi operators need a city license, but there is no requirement or procedure for general business licenses.

Neu told members of the Pocatello City Council during a study session Thursday that the city and the fire department are not always aware of when new businesses open.

Neu said currently the city relies on utility records and building permits to track new businesses, making it difficult to conduct fire inspections to ensure codes and regulations are met and that the business is safe. Gates added that they often simply drive along Pocatello’s main roads to see if anything looks new.

Gates told the council that general business licensing would provide new business owners with a packet of information about the city’s code and all required equipment for that business. The fee proposed by city of Pocatello is $50 annually.

Gates said one new business in the city was forced to close its doors after investing their life-savings because required safety equipment was not installed at the business.

Neu told the Journal last month that fly-by-night business practices in Pocatello were a catalyst to get this discussion rolling as well as input from the police and fire department.

Throughout October and November, Neu conducted a survey of 100 Pocatello businesses. The majority of the businesses claimed one to five employees and an operating budget $100,000 or less annually. Most had been in operation for more 10 years or more.

Only about 36 percent of those businesses that responded to the survey supported licensing.

Neu said licensing would provide validation for businesses and up to date key holder information for the fire and police departments.

She said licensing would also facilitate more efficient water pollution control because the city would know what businesses are discharging into the sewer.

“If we violate that (federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit) it’s thousands of dollars per day that the city has to pay,” Neu said. “Due to our location, the EPA monitors us pretty closely.”

Churches and nonprofit groups would also be required to buy a business license under the new plan.

City Councilman Jim Johnston said he opposed any new restriction on businesses and was opposed to licensing churches, but he said he is also concerned about health and safety.

Councilwoman Heidi Adamson agreed and said she feared that local businesses would see it as another tax on their businesses.

Johnston said he would like to see discussions held with local commerce groups before it moves forward — a step that Neu promised to take following the meeting.

Mike Vigliaturo, owner of Pocatello Electric in Old Town, said he doesn’t see a need for general business licensing in the city.

Vigliaturo has owned the business since 1989 and he bought the store from his father, Al Vigliaturo, who became the sole owner in 1973.

Mike said his business is inspected twice a year by the Pocatello Fire Department to ensure that the building meets city code and that the public is not at risk.

The city is just looking to generate revenue,” Mike said.

Ed Snell, owner of Ed Snell Pharmacy in Pocatello wants to know what he’ll get for his $50.

“Are they expecting to generate revenue or are they providing some kind of service for this $50 annual fee?” Snell said.

Snell said his pharmacy is already inspected and licensed by the state, Medicare and Medicaid, and the fire department conducts regular inspections at the store.

He also opposes implementation of business licenses and believes it’s unnecessary.

For comparison, Chubbuck implemented business licensing around 1953 and about 768 Chubbuck businesses currently hold a city license. The general license fee $25 per year in Chubbuck.