Harrisburg council considers higher fee for business licenses

November 16, 2016
Harrisburg, PA

By Christine Vendel |
[email protected]

HARRISBURG—For 20 years, business owners have paid $40 for an annual business license to operate in the city of Harrisburg.

That likely will change Jan. 1 as city council members prepare to increase the fee to $50 to adjust for inflation and increasing costs over two decades.

Council members weighed the increase Thursday night at a Community and Economic Development committee meeting. Councilman Jeff Baltimore, who chaired the meeting, said he planned to recommend approval of the measure at the next full legislative session.

"Over the years, there have been numerous increases to the cost of personnel, postage, paper and printing associated with issuing the business privilege and mercantile licenses," the proposed ordinance said.

Council members asked how the fee compared to other jurisdictions, and Mike Hughes, the city's tax enforcement officer, said similar cities such as York and Reading charge $50 while smaller municipalities charge less.

The fee hike would apply to about 5,000 businesses that operate in the city.

Council Vice President Shamaine Daniels asked whether the city could implement a two-tiered fee to cut small businesses a break, especially home-based operations that require other costly licenses. But Hughes said the state's Third Class City Code requires that the fee be equally applied, which means small mom-and-pop shops pay the same annual fee as a large law firms downtown.

The proposed fee increase represents the latest in a series of upward adjustments in fees and trash rates, after decades of neglect, council members said.

Under former Mayor Stephen Reed, the city neglected to raise fees to cover costs, said Councilman Ben Allatt, which helped to exacerbate the city's structural budget deficit.

"It's not sustainable," he said.

In other business, council members considered plans for construction of a 3-story, 20-unit building on a parking lot at 1820 North Fifth Street to house homeless veterans. The lot is next to the building that formerly housed the Hamilton Health Center.

The former health center currently is being renovated by Juanita Edrington Grant, who runs the Christian Recovery Aftercare Ministry for ex-offenders. Her organization, known as CRAM, will work with the TLC Work-Based Training Program, which is building the units for homeless veterans through tax credits.

Construction could begin on the project in the spring, according to architect Steve Funk, who attended Thursday's meeting.

SOURCE: http://www.pennlive.com/news/2016/11/harrisburg_business_license_me.html