Statewide business license raises questions for local officials

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Information presented at County Municipal meetingBy Stan Welch
Two bills purportedly designed to streamline and standardize the issuance of business licenses across the state have ruffled quite a few feathers among the leaders of some of the small towns in the area.
Introduced by Rep. Bill Sandifer, House Bills 3650 and 3651 are the latest efforts to address business license reform in the General Assembly.

But the bills seek to put the process under the supervision of the Secretary of State’s Office, a change that has many small towns up in arms.
Several mayors and Council members from Anderson County municipalities expressed concern about the information they received at last week’s local gathering of the Anderson County Municipal Association held in Williamston.
Scott Slatton represented the municipal association. MASC is a lobbying group for the state’s towns and cities, as well as providing various administrative and legislative assistance.
In exchange for collecting some taxes for the small towns, such as franchise fees, MASC charges a fee that can be as high as two and a half per cent. That amount is far below the costs the towns would incur by handling the collections themselves, according to Williamston Mayor Mack Durham. In addition, member towns pay significant membership fees annually to the association.
But under the proposed law, the Secretary of State’s Office would assume those duties, and would charge the towns as little as one quarter per cent. Durham says that MASC provides much more than just collection assistance. “They are our lobbyists in Columbia. They give us a voice. Without them and ACOG, small towns would get very few resources from the state.”
Durham also says that there is a significant trust issue between the state and local levels of government. “When the General Assembly passed the tax relief bill several years ago, and revenues dropped off so badly, they disregarded the revenue formulas established by law and sent the counties and municipalities a much lower percentage than we were supposed to get. At the worst, we were down to sixty five per cent. We’re back up to about eighty five per cent now, but the unfunded mandates just keep coming. So the history of the state handling our money is not impressive.”
Durham agrees with West Pelzer Mayor Blake Sanders that everyone wants to see standardization and streamlining of the process. “No one opposes standardization. We all want to streamline the process to make it as easy as possible for business owners. We’ve all heard the horror stories of going from place to place trying to get licensed to do business, especially if you do business in various locations.”
Sanders says there is a simple solution. “MASC could open a portal on its website where a business could go and register. It could pay the fee there, and at the end of the month, MASC cuts a check to any towns that the business has operated in.”
Both mayors said they see the proposed legislation as an effort to weaken the MASC, and both say they support the association. “They have proved their value to the towns and cities around this state, and we would be in worse shape if they are weakened or limited,”said Durham.
Rep. Anne Thayer says that she supports the municipalities in her district but cautions that any changes they want to see in the proposal should be communicated to her as soon as possible. “I will be happy to speak for them in the house, but time is growing short, and I need to know clearly what their wishes are in terms of this legislation.”