County looking at new license fee

BRADENTON — Hoping to generate funds for economic development, the Manatee County administrator suggested Thursday at a budget work session the commissioners adopt a business license fee.

As part of his proposed budget for next year, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said initiating a business license fee would provide two benefits for the county.

There is the public safety issue, where first responders “don’t know when they show up at a business what’s on the other side of the door,” Hunzeker said.

He said a business license plan would create a data base to alert public safety agencies what kinds of materials they could expect when they arrive at a business.

The other benefit to charging business a fee to operate in Manatee County would be the funds would be used exclusively for economic development activities.

“This is an opportunity for the business community to help the business community,” Hunzeker said.

He said he did not have any figures on how much money a fee would bring in, but that he planned to have county staff study the question.

The administrator said he discussed his proposal with officials at the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

Bob Bartz, executive director of the chamber, in an interview after the meeting said that the organization has created a task force to look into the issue.

“We have to see what it really means,” Bartz said.

He said the task force will hold its first meeting sometime in the middle of June.

Hunzeker told the commissioners Manatee County was the only county in the surrounding area without a business or occupational license fee.

Even the six municipalities in the county have a business fee program.

Commissioner Larry Bustle, who served as mayor of Palmetto before being elected to the commission in November, said a business license fee is a tax, but it does provide benefits.

“Our Economic Development Council is underfunded compared to Sarasota County,” Bustle said. “Also it would let us know what the business community is comprised of.”

He said he talked to officials in Charlotte County after Hurricane Charlie devastated that community and they had no record of what businesses they had.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who was mayor of Holmes Beach, said that the island city charged about $25 for its occupational license.

“I understand why it’s needed,” Whitmore said, “but the fee should be minimal.”

Hunzeker said the fee should be nominal, “and I want the administration of the program to be more nominal.

“We want to keep it simple,” he said.

Commissioner Joe McClash said he was opposed to such a fee, saying it was another tax on small businesses.

“This is an unfriendly message to businesses in the county,” McClash said. “This will open a can of worms.”

He said the safety issue is addressed with the yearly fire inspections that are performed.