New, expanded business license applications in Hazleton cause uproar

January 26, 2017
Hazleton, PA

By Geri Gibbons

[email protected] - @TLGGibbons - 570-991-6117

HAZLETON —A revised application for business licenses has council members, business owners and Mayor Jeff Cusat embroiled in a controversy involving privacy, necessity and safety.

The new application, made available to council members last week and scheduled to be sent to local businesses in the next few days, was recrafted by Cusat and his administration in an attempt, he said, to reduce business fraud.

Councilman David Sosar disagrees with requesting what he believes is an unnecssary amount of information from business owners, including social security numbers, banks used for business accounts, names of accountants and utility information.

“We’ve all been getting a lot of calls from residents who are business owners,” said Sosar. “They don’t want to provide such a great deal of information; they think it’s intrusive.”

Melody Fuller, owner Hair of the Dog and Jagger’s Doggy Deli dog services, credited Cusat and Police Chief Jerry Speziale with successfully addressing crime during the last year, but she said she doesn’t trust the city with her information.

Fuller, who has been in business on East Broad Street for over 25 years, said city officials historically have not adequately addressed problems ranging from crime to parking to economic development.

“At this point,” she said, “if the government couldn’t address those types of problems, I will not trust them with my personal information. I’m not asking for a line of credit or anything.”

Fuller said she feels so adamantly about the issue that, should she be required to complete the form in its entirety, she would move her business out of Hazleton.

“I have other locations (to choose from),” she said. “I don’t want to leave Hazleton, but I will if I feel that I have to.”

Other business owners posted comments opposing the new forms on Cusat’s Facebook page but declined comment for this story.

Cusat said he intends to go “door-to-door” to businesses that do not return the completed form to the city, and should they refuse to comply with it, will require them to shut down.

Cusat sites such infractions as failure to pay municipal taxes, cash-only businesses and being fronts for criminal activity as reasons for the additional questions on the two-page application.

“Just ask the police department,” he said. “Illegal businesses are the source of a lot of drug activity and violence.”

Fuller, though, said she believes there should be a better way for the city to address fraudulent businesses.

“I could spot fraudulent businesses myself, without any form,” she said. “Long-term businesses will be penalized. Requiring the form could negatively impact businesses.”

Pointing out empty storefronts in downtown Hazleton, Fuller said, “We cannot afford to lose any more businesses.”

Councilwoman Grace Cuozzo said, “They’re crazy if they think the fraudulent businesses are going to fill out the form. And, we don’t have the money to investigate business by business. Some of that investigation should be left to the IRS or the health department.”

For now, Cusat said he will continue to mail out the business licensing forms and to require that they be fully completed.

“If someone has a problem with providing specific information, they are welcome to come in and talk about it,” he said. “But the forms need to be completed and returned.”

Reach Geri Gibbons at 570-991-6117 or on Twitter @TLGGibbons.