Bend is changing its policy on its business license requirement. It’s not going to start enforcing it. It’s hoping to get more voluntary compliance.
But if the law is worth having, Bend should enforce it. If the fine is too steep, then change it.
The city is now effectively punishing businesses that do comply for their good citizenship by not enforcing the law on other businesses.
The city requires any business that conducts physical activities in the city — whether or not the business operates from a physical location in the city — to pay for an annual business license. There is quite a long list of exceptions to the law on the city’s website.
The license is $50 a year. The city says there are about 10,000 businesses in town and only about 6,000 have licenses. Violating the business license carries up to a $500 fine.
How many businesses has the city fined? Zero.
Does it plan to fine anyone? Not now. Instead, it’s going to be asking more residents and businesses who show up at City Hall if businesses are licensed.
The city insists the license is worthwhile. The database of information is made available to 911 dispatchers, which helps them know whom to contact when there is trouble or a false alarm.
The money raised pays for Bend’s business advocate, Carolyn Eagan, and another part-time employee to run the program. The city uses part of the money to pay some of the city’s contribution to Economic Development of Central Oregon.
Eagan uses the information in the licenses to better understand what kinds of businesses there are in Bend and how they might need help. The city is also using the information to develop a more fair payment plan for commercial sewer hookups. Those are good investments and good uses of the information.
We can’t quarrel with the city’s initial go-slow approach on requiring licenses and can’t quarrel with the reluctance to start fining businesses left and right. The law, though, has been around since February 2006. The city doesn’t have to start handing out $500 fines to each and every business out of compliance for every day the businesses fail to pay. It can send out warning letters. But it needs to enforce the law or transform it into a voluntary contribution program.