Businesses, officials sound off on new county fee

A hike in Val Verde. Photo courtesy of Erica Larsen
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A countywide business registration program that affects businesses in unincorporated areas is drawing the ire of residents.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Feb. 13 to create a universal business registration program for all of the estimated 15,000 businesses in unincorporated areas. Under the new regulations, any business currently without a county business license will be required to register and pay $185 in annual licensing fees.

The program will be implemented in phases beginning spring 2019, starting with large and then going to small businesses. Its purpose is to better connect local businesses to local government, according to a release from the County Department of Treasurer and Tax Collector, who is responsible for implementing the new program.

The opposing vote came from Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the county’s 5th District.

“The supervisor opposed this effort because there is no evidence that our local businesses would benefit from this program,” said Barger spokesman Tony Bell. “We believe that the county ought to be focused on expending efforts to support and retain small business which leads to job creation and economic prosperity. We are concerned that the establishment of one more additional fees for our local businesses goes against this effort to support and partner with the business community.”

The county currently has no records to inspect business workplaces or assist owners, said the measure’s co-authors, Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Janice Hahn.

Business associations in the Santa Clarita Valley are displeased with this announcement.

After attending presentations the county gave on the benefits of the new program, the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce voted May 15 to oppose the program, said Troy Hooper, chairman of the Chamber Board.

“Our position is that it’s a new tax, and that (the county) was not able to articulate a valuable or valid purpose for it,” Hooper said. “Their primary purpose for adding this fee and permit, in their words, is to be able to identify and have contact with all the businesses in the unincorporated areas to let them know about their progress.”

The Valley Industry Association opposed the fee and is looking for more information on how the county proposes to utilize the money collected, said President Kathy Norris.

“It is another tax imposed on businesses which we would not typically support unless there was a very direct fund that would benefit those businesses,” she said.

Hooper said the $185 fee was 50 percent of dues to join the chamber and a significant cost to business owners.

“Our big question is, ‘What are you gonna do with the costs?” he said. “They said that’s for administration. But there’s plenty of databases from the Economic Development Corporation.”

Castaic Area Town Council Vice President Bonnie Nikolai was also opposed to the program. “In general, I’m against regulations like this for small businesses considering there’s no real benefit to the county levying these sorts of fees,” she said. “I don’t feel the county needs to tax them anymore than is necessary.”

Supervisors Kuehl and Hahn said the county would be able to better stay connected with local needs in light of the program.

“I feel strongly that the county has a responsibility to our local businesses and their employees, as well as the communities in which these businesses are located, and we want to provide them with essential information, to make sure that they are abiding by the law, and include them in our future planning,” Kuehl said after the vote.

“By allowing businesses to register with the county, we will not only be able to connect business owners with resources and contracting opportunities to strengthen their businesses, we will be able to provide support to local workers and ensure they are treated fairly and receive the wages they deserve,” Hahn said.




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