Licensing fees: Look deeper

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On the surface, what the Colorado Springs City Council decided Tuesday afternoon might sound wonderful for the local business community.

In fact, if Council went into its formal meeting with the subconscious idea of trying to upstage the primary election, it briefly succeeded.

The action, by a 5-4 vote, would remove licensing fees for many companies doing business in Colorado Springs.

Notice we said “would” — because despite the decision, there’s little chance it will happen. Mayor Steve Bach likely will veto it, and there’s no way Council will be able to come up with the sixth vote required to override that veto.

So, does that mean Mayor Bach suddenly has become anti-business, while City Council just as quickly has chosen to become the sole champion of local business?

Of course not. These are political games being played out in full view. This is simply another case of Council and Mayor Bach engaging in a tug-of-war over specific powers and control over the city government.

Would it be nice to do away with all licensing fees? Almost any business owner would answer yes. But the city does help local businesses, and the fees are a way to cover some costs.

And it’s not as if these fees are the make-or-break difference between success and failure for all local businesses. The action, if Mayor Bach lets it stand, will not mean more money in every business owner’s pocket. These fees pertain mostly to companies providing certain services, not selling goods.

It’s not as if these fees are the make-or-break difference between success and failure for all local businesses.

Here’s the list of affected businesses with the current license renewal fee for 2014: Circus/carnival, $300/week; billiards/pool, $15; contractor excavation and cement, $100; coin-operated game rooms, $250; game room operator, $500; food peddler, $100; refuse collection, $95; security agency/officer, $350 plus $250 for each 25 guards; security officers, $103; pawn broker, $95; sexually oriented business, $500; taxicab, $95; tree service, $100; escort bureaus, $500; funeral escorts, $25; going out of business, $115; alarm business, $285.

That adds up to $390,500 in budgeted revenue for 2014, and in those categories, the city already has collected $199,795 in fees through May.

Our guess is, most CSBJ readers do little if any ongoing business with those service providers and entities. Yet, some on City Council acted as though this would have a major impact on the local economy.

It won’t. And Mayor Bach already has had City Clerk Sarah Johnson working on a study of such licensing fees, with the intent of producing a broader-scale revision later in the year.

That approach makes more sense. So don’t be surprised if the mayor does veto City Council’s action, allowing Johnson to finish her study and bring recommendations that make a difference to more business owners.

Four members of Council — Merv Bennett, Jan Martin, Jill Gaebler and Val Snider — understood all that and voted against Councilor Helen Collins’ proposal. Three of those four (all but Gaebler) also are the only members of Council who have served more than 14 months. Council President Keith King related his yes vote to when he started his Waterbed Palaces in 1977 — hardly applicable today, and not on that above list.

Would it be nice to cut business licensing fees? Certainly. But our fees already in many cases are lower than those in other Front Range cities. So let’s hope for a mayoral veto, see what the city clerk comes up with, and go from there. nCSBJ