After lengthy discussion, the matter was put to rest for now, but not before strong opposition was voiced both by members of council and members of the audience.
Councilmember Joe Kersen had questioned the “focus” of the CDC at a prior meeting, complaining about empty store fronts, and CDC representative Dee Williams directed some of her comments directly to him.
Williams said without the data that business licenses would provide, the city has no idea who is operating a business in the city or how many there are.
Lezah Saunders, board president of the Ouray Chamber Resort Association, said when applying for state grants, information is always required on the number and types of businesses in town.
“If we had licensing, council would know that we have three new businesses in town,” she said.
Ouray is one of the few communities in Colorado that does not require business licenses, said City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli, but more discussion is needed, and a staff report to council members stated that the proposed licensing schedule would be at the same time city staff is doing annual utility billing, which often requires hiring part-time workers. City staff was also not consulted about the $25 fee proposed by the CDC, which is supposed to offset administrative expenses and services.
The CDC has studied other business license ordinances, particularly Buena Vista’s, but a final ordinance would involve “significant issues and changes” states the staff report.
City police also need to know who’s doing business in Ouray, Williams said, adding that Police Chief Leo Rasmussen has had problems at times finding the owners of businesses that were broken into.
“We need more information and we need to know who’s here,” Williams said.
But Andy Mueller of the Tisdel Law Firm said he is adamantly opposed to the proposed ordinance, and suggested local cops “walk the streets” to find out who owns what.
“We don’t want business licenses, we don’t pay sales taxes and we don’t sell goods,” he said. “We are on OCRA’s website, but that’s our marketing decision. We should not be forced.”
Attempts to get voluntary registration from business owners have failed in the past, said CDC member Jen Smith, with only a 40 percent response rate, but businesses contemplating a move to Ouray want to know about existing similar businesses here.
“We are probably the only town on the Western Slope that doesn’t have this,” she said.
If the town had business license data, CDC members could go to economic seminars with valuable information that potential new businesses are looking for, Smith added.
“We can say, if you want to relocate here, we already have three accountants,” she said.
Williams said inquiring businesses are always surprised that Ouray does not require business licenses, and said to Kersen that the issue of empty store fronts could be tackled with hard facts about the city’s economic reality.
“We can’t address it until we have some knowledge,” she said. “The city is totally information-less about the business community here.”
Councilmember Gary Hansen said the proposal looked “an obstacle for business” because or more paperwork, but Saunders that’s just part of conducting business.
“It’s standard procedure, and say someone is operating a business illegally, at least we’ll know they’re here,” she said.
Another problem with lack of data on Ouray businesses is applying for state grants, Saunders said, and the applications always require information about existing businesses.
“Their first question is, ‘Who is there?’” she said.
Williams pointed to the success of the CDC’s recycling program, which is not costing the city anything, she said, and said data from business licenses could help leverage more grants.
“We’d know who owns what, who they hire, but now that we can apply for grants, how do we answer questions about our business climate?” she asked.
Eric Funk of Real Mountain Radio was also opposed to business licensing, and another man in the audience objected because the ordinance would also apply to companies making deliveries to Ouray.
If the ordinance passes after future discussions, businesses would be listed for free on the OCRA website and possibly in a community directory.
Councilmember Betty Wolfe said she would like to hear more from business owners before making a decision, and asked Mueller if he would register for a business license if it was voluntary. He said no.
“I understand the importance of a thriving business community, but that’s OCRA’s role and the city shouldn’t be doing it,” Mueller said.
But Saunders said that OCRA, which is the city’s “current marketing arm for retail, lodging community and tourism,” doesn’t even have enough money to send out relocation packets at present.
“Should we have that? Absolutely,” she said. “But in order to get state funding we need more information.”
The discussion will continue at future council meetings, Wolfe said in closing the topic.
In other business, after a brief discussion about operating hours, the city council renewed its contract with OCRA. With no discussion, council also approved the city budget for 2011.