Council defeats plan to increase fees, license costs


Saying the timing isn't right, the County Council defeated a bill yesterday that would have raised $1.3 million by increasing fees and license costs for a wide range of occupations and events.

The 7-0 vote came after months of debate over a measure that had been recommended in February by an advisory committee -- chaired by state Sen. John A. Cade -- appointed by the county executive to look for alternatives to the property tax as a revenue source.

The bill would have raised testing and licensing fees for electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, bail bondsmen and auctioneers. In many cases, the measure would have doubled the cost of annual licenses for tradesmen, which now range from about $25 for electricians to $250 for auctioneers.

Pawnbrokers would have seen their licenses fees rise from $100 to $250, and towing companies' licenses would have gone from $25 to $250. A cab driver's license renewal would have risen from $15 to $25. And it would have cost $25 to put on a parade, instead of the $1 the county now charges for permits.

Fees for rezoning applications and subdivision plat approvals also would have doubled and, in some cases, tripled.

But the bill was defeated after Council Chairman David Boschert said opponents told him that groups and individuals affected by the increases were not given their say.

Councilman George Bachman also argued that it was not a good time to hit recession-weary tradesmen with added fees.

"Now just might not be the time," Bachman said.

Inspections and Permits Director Robert Dvorak told the council in a hearing on the bill yesterday that the electrical contractor who complained to Boschert about being shut out of the process was at sessions where the bill was discussed, and that he talked to him personally for 45 minutes after one meeting.

"It's a case of where somebody who didn't get his way said we weren't listening. But we did listen," he said.

The measure has been the subject of numerous public meetings, including hearings before the council.

Dvorak said after the vote that many of the rates, such as the $250 annual fee for a bail bondsman, haven't been increased since the 1940s, and most of them are at least 20 years old.

Fees now cover 43 percent of the costs to regulate professional crafts and other license holders, Dvorak said. The bill would have increased that to 58 percent.

He said that the bill may be reintroduced in amended form after the council completes its work on the county budget.

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