Leece Vs. Mensinger On Business License Fees
For those of you who do not subscribe to the Orange County Register, last Wednesday, June 5th, two commentaries by Costa Mesa council members appeared side-by-side on page 6 in The Current, the Register's Costa Mesa/Newport Beach supplement that appears Monday through Friday. If you missed it and DO subscribe to The Register, it is still available in the online archives of The Current.
RAISING BUSINESS LICENSE FEES, OR NOT?
Under the headline, "Keeping Costa Mesa Out of the Red", commentaries by councilwoman Wendy Leece and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger presented their views on the issue of possibly increasing the Business License Fees in response to a much-needed revenue source as the City faces a $12 million budget deficit - which will be discussed in the Study Session this afternoon beginning at 4:30 p.m. in City Council chambers. You can also view it live on CMTV.
QUOTATIONS AND OBSERVATIONS
I cannot provide you with what Leece and Mensinger wrote word-for-word without violating The Register's copyright, but I will give you a few comments and my opinion of the issue.
A GOOD QUESTION
Leece begins her commentary with this question, "Which should be more binding, a pledge given in a campaign or the duty to serve Costa Mesa and make the best decision considering all the facts?" She then goes on to explain that, in her view, the City Council should ask the Finance Advisory Committee to study the current Business License Fee structure and recommend alternatives that might generate new revenue for the city. She explained, as many of us already know, that the Business License Fee structure in Costa Mesa has not changed since 1961.
Anticipating the council majority rejecting her suggestion, she wonders, "Why wouldn't the council majority want to have the committee analyze this? Or have they already decided they know what is best without looking at all the facts?" She then ends by saying, "Reminds me of the saying, 'I've made up my mind, don't confuse with the facts.'"
In his adjacent commentary Mensinger began with this observation, "As Calvin Coolidge once said, 'Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery.'" He then asks, "So what is necessary?"
His next statement is bizarre, so I'll include it verbatim. He says, "The purpose of a business license is to determine whether a business is operating within the applicable federal, state and local laws. It ascertains that businesses maintain a safe environment for the general public. It also ensures the location is properly zoned for the activity to be conducted." Actually, the purpose of the Business License Tax - that's what it is, a tax - is to generate revenue for the City, some of which MAY be used to regulate the businesses through fire, police, code enforcement and monitoring of use permits and the like. The rest goes into the General Fund to provide for public safety and pave streets.
..I KNOW WHAT'S BEST FOR YOU
Mensinger, condescendingly uses the term "the usual suspects" when he implies that advocates of an increase in the Business License Fee are doing so "to pay for ever-increasing public pension costs". Once again, he demonstrates the disdain he holds for the many residents who study the issues and take the time out of their busy lives to step up and speak to the council on them. It's clear that he thinks he knows what's good for us, and we shouldn't dare to challenge his views.
COLLECT WHAT IS OWED
He goes on to say that, before hiking fees, "we first should make sure that the current system works and that each Costa Mesa business has a license." I fully agree with him on that issue. Until the City recently purchased software to aid in the analysis, there was virtually NO attempt to insure that (1) all businesses in the city are licensed and, (2) those that are licensed are paying proper fees. Mensinger mentions the purchase of that software in his piece. Our municipal code provides for penalties for unpaid taxes, so tracking down and billing scofflaws could result in a one-time revenue jump.
DOESN'T CHANGE THE NEED
That, however, does NOT mean the Finance Advisory Committee shouldn't proceed with their assignment and do an analysis of our current structure and make recommendations to the City Council on whether they feel adjustments are in order, and how those adjustments should be made.
OK, STEVE, BUT...
Mensinger closed his piece by stating, "We can all agree that Costa Mesa is a great place to do business. Let's keep it that way.", assuming a modest Business License Fee would change that perspective. During her presentation Tuesday night Leece read, in part, a letter from Ed Fawcett, Director of the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce, that suggested we, in fact, should study the issue before placing it on the ballot. Apparently Fawcett isn't too worried about the results of a study.
JEFF HARLAN'S VIEW
Daily Pilot columnist Jeffrey Harlan recently wrote a commentary that discussed this issue, HERE. He addressed these two commentaries from his perspective as a Costa Mesa resident and professional land planner. I think you'll find his observations interesting.
STAKE IN THE HEART LAST YEAR
Last year, when the issue of increasing the Business License Fees came up, the staff presented the council with some options to consider, one of which spoke of a highest fee of $10,000! That single comment, in my humble opinion as an observer of these meetings, drove a stake in the heart in the effort to consider alternatives to our current structure. That number was pulled out of the air as an example, but the results were catastrophic.
DO THEIR HOMEWORK
I hope the members of the Finance Advisory Committee will do their homework and actually study this issue as directed by the council. I'm sure they won't come up with anything quite as draconian as that "$10,000" number.
In my opinion, anyone who holds a business license in Costa Mesa should be required to pay at least a minimal fee, whether they have income or not. It costs the city money to process the applications for renewal and those costs should be covered 100% by the fee. That might mean a minimum fee of $25.00 - $50.00. The committee can evaluate that.
Then, they could simply recommend quadrupling the remaining fee structure, with a maximum fee of $800, up from $200. These fees have remained stagnant for more than a half-century and I doubt if those in the highest brackets - the Nordstrom's, Sax Fifth Avenue, Tiffany and the like - will balk at $800. Such a modest change could generate more than $3 million in additional revenue for the city and allow us to hire more police officers and fully staff the fire department, for example.
I'm looking forward to seeing how this analysis proceeds, and what kind of recommendations the committee generates. They have plenty of time for this project - an increase in the Business License Fee must appear on a General Election ballot and the first one available is November, 2014.