Fines, jail time possible without county business license

February 13, 2017
Etowah County, AL

By Benjamin Nunnally | Times Staff Writer

Etowah County business owners can face serious consequences for not purchasing their business licenses on time, including fines and possible jail time.

County Commission Chief Financial Officer Kevin Dollar announced the new enforcement measures Tuesday morning at the commission's work session.

"If someone has not purchased a business license, they can be fined for the amount of that license, but also they could be subject to six months in jail," said Dollar, who noted that those measures, taken in conjunction with the district attorney's office, are a last resort.

"We don't want to go to that extreme unless we've exhausted all of our resources to try to collect that," he said.

Business licenses in Etowah County must be purchased in October, and are good through the year until the end of September. Businesses that haven't purchased their annual license by November become delinquent, and receive citations that include a 15 percent penalty on the cost of the license and an increase in interest every month as determined by the state.

Deputy License Inspector Connie Arnold manages the citation process, sending notices and, in extreme cases, visiting the business sites themselves to try and collect payment. Usually, these methods are enough.

"A lot of times these folks say, 'I just strictly forgot,' and a lot of them will come in and pay," said Arnold.

Occasionally, a business owner will ask: "What are you going to do about it?" Now, Dollar has an answer.

"If it's still not collected, we'll send a registered letter notifying them that they need to purchase that business license, or our next step is to turn it over to the district attorney's office," said Dollar.

District Attorney Jody Willoughby said his office will handle cases like any other statutory violation, with their focus on prosecuting.

"Any type of sentence that may be imposed will be completely up to the court," said Willoughby, unless another disposition is reached between the involved parties.

Commission staff is still determining how long an account can be held delinquent before being passed to the district attorney's office for legal action. They've always had the option of turning businesses operating without a license over for prosecution, according to Dollar, but have not done so in the past.

Etowah County has about 5,000 active business licenses, according to Accounts Manager Belinda Childress. The commission has seen a little more than 300 delinquent accounts this year.

"If we have to pursue to that level we will do it," Dollar said, "but we're pro-business and want to have a business-friendly county. It's a matter of last resort."

Business license payments are collected by the Etowah County Probate Office, which also issues the licenses.

Call Arnold at 256-547-4612 for more information or to arrange a payment.