2013-01-17 / In the News

Fee relief could be on way for some businesses

By Kristy Wagner Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Business owners who sell secondhand items could be looking at a reduction in one of the annual fees they pay to the city.

The policy committee discussed reducing – and maybe even eliminating – the $200 annual licensing fee for secondhand dealers at a meeting Monday, Jan. 14.

Biddeford Police Chief Roger Beaupre and committee member, said the secondhand dealer licenses help police track down stolen items that might have been resold at businesses that deal in secondhand items.

“The fees don’t impact me at all. I am concerned about how we enforce; fees do not concern me,” Beaupre said. “I think the whole argument with this ordinance is the fee. Those who predominantly do not deal in secondhand goods are forced to get a license that costs $200.”

City councilor and policy committee member Mike Ready said that “predominantly” was an important distinction in weighing changes to the secondhand dealer policy. Ready said the policy up to this point is generating complaints from some business owners who only sell a small number of secondhand items.

“It came down to the amount of the fee they had to pay. Someone who had a very tiny percentage of secondhand product was paying $200,” Ready said.

In December, the Courier printed a story about Biddeford business fees, specifically the secondhand dealer fee. Tim Stentiford, owner of Motorland in Biddeford, said the $200 fee was too high and could put a financial strain on some new businesses that are already cash-strapped. Stentiford also said the wording of the ordinance did not specify how much of his business had to be considered secondhand items in order for the city to charge him the licensing fee.

Ready said in determining which businesses counted as secondhand dealers, the ordinance had to specify how much of the revenue-generating business stems from the sale of secondhand items.

“I had said about 50 percent,” Ready said.

Policy committee member Renee O’Neil asked why business fees were set in place at all.

“They generate revenue,” Beaupre said.

Biddeford’s secondhand dealer ordinance and fee structure were created in the 1990s.

“Biddeford put a moratorium on secondhand stores when they began popping up along Main Street. People were concerned all of Main Street was going to be secondhand dealers. That’s when this ordinance first came into effect,” Ready said.

Ready said business owners of regular retail stores do not pay a license fee to the city, but do pay one to the state. He said the high fee for some businesses, such as secondhand dealers, is applied to the police department and codes for inspections of business records and building inspections. Money from the secondhand dealer fees are not applied to these services, Beaupre said, adding that a licensing fee for a business could be a onetime fee that covered everything a business needed to pay to the city and state.

“Have we ever thought to reduce the fee to something that won’t be much of a budget crusher or really affect the bottom line in terms of fees?” asked city councilor and policy committee member Bradley Cote.

Bob Mills, chairman of the policy committee and a city councilor, said he liked the idea of an “all-inclusive fee” that, if it remained at $200, would cover all of the fees a business owner would have to pay.

“The secondhand dealer fee should be no different than retail,” said Beaupre, who added there needs to be wording in the ordinance that regulates reporting of certain secondhand items and documentation, which has “nothing to do with fees.”

Cote said if the fee was eliminated or lowered, a refund may be in order for those business owners who have already paid a secondhand licensing fee for 2013.

Mills made a motion to have the committee “strike the fee section for the secondhand license,” which was seconded by Cote.

“After hearing all of this, what was the reasoning in theory behind this $200 fee? It sounds like back in the day they were concerned that there would be nothing downtown but secondhand stores,” Cote said. “Do we have that concern today? Sounds like most folks who are applying for fees do not have that concern. The simple solution would be to charge a lower fee or get rid of the fee.”

The committee was in agreement the fee could possibly be lowered and required only once. The committee tabled the motion to its next meeting, slated for Monday, Feb. 11. Mills said Ready, Beaupre and City Clerk Carmen Morris, who was not present at the meeting, would continue to discuss the language of the ordinance and the amount of the fee.

“We could talk to Carmen about it. Hopefully, we can finally complete this,” Ready said.

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