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City offers business license amnesty

Sat., June 20, 2009, 1 a.m.

Businesses out of compliance to get break if they come forward

Unlicensed businesses have a chance to make good with the city of Spokane without the usual penalties.

The city tax and license department next week will allow companies that are skirting license requirements to come forward without having to pay fines for breaking the law.

“It’s always better if you come to me and I educate you and tell you, ‘This is what’s required,’ than me trying to hound you down and slap you with interest and penalty,” said City Treasurer Ellen Dolan. “That’s the last thing we want to do.”

Businesses within city limits are required each year to pay a $60 base license fee, plus $10 per employee for businesses with five workers or fewer, $15 per employee for businesses with six to 10 workers, and $20 per employee for businesses with more than 10.

When the city catches an unlicensed business, the owner usually is required to pay 1 percent interest per month on owed charges, plus an additional $10 or 5 percent interest fee for each lapsed month – whichever is higher.

That’s on top of paying the license fees for each of the lapsed years, up to seven years. The fees businesses should have paid in previous years will not be waived next week.

Dolan said the city frequently searches for unlicensed businesses. Last year, 731 unlicensed companies were found and paid $106,259 in fees and penalties.

The amnesty period was created as part of a program aimed at helping local businesses, not to shore up the budget, Dolan said.

City officials are considering increasing license fees in the face of a projected budget deficit next year. City Council President Joe Shogan has said the city won’t increase the base rate to a fee any higher than $90. He also has stated opposition to increasing the per-employee rates.

Jeff Severs, chief operating officer of Greater Spokane Incorporated, the region’s chamber of commerce, said the group is waiting to see a final version of license rates before taking a stance.

Dolan said the city has about 18,000 registered businesses. Any that want to come forward can contact the city at (509) 625-6070. The deadline is 5 p.m. Friday, Dolan said.

“Some people maybe don’t really understand,” she said. “They think that once they apply with the state for a license that they’re fine and they’re covered. But it’s not.”

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