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Woodinville business owners respond to proposed license fee

  • Written by Briana Gerdeman, Contributing Writer
Local business owners have mixed opinions about the business license program that the City Council proposed at its last meeting. Some oppose it as an unnecessary cost, but others think the financial burden would be insignificant and the money raised could benefit them.

“I don’t want to pay for anything more than I’m already paying for, but I do see the benefit,” said Erika Kiss, owner of Erika’z Hair Design.

Woodinville already requires all businesses to register annually, which is free, according to Ordinance 251. About 80 to 85 percent of Woodinville businesses are registered, said administrative director Jim Katica, but the policy isn’t enforced for businesses that fail to register.

Although Woodinville’s current business registration is free, that doesn’t mean it’s free to set up a business. All businesses must have a state business license, the cost of which depends on the type of business, the type of ownership, the type of employees, and several other factors. Businesses in unincorporated King County — not within any city’s limits — must also have a county business license.

Wes Case, owner of Teddy’s Bigger Burgers, opposed the business license and said it’s already “tough” for businesses to pay for current licenses.

Even if the money from the license was used for improvements that benefit businesses, “it should be borne by the citizens of the state or county, not the business owners,” Case said.

The proposed business license might cost a flat fee for all businesses, or it might be based on the number of employees, the square footage, or the type of business  — for example, retail vs. industrial. Neighboring cities calculate the business license fee in several different ways, Katica said at the April 16 City Council meeting.

Redmond bases its business license fee on the number of employees a business has. In Kirkland, the fee is based on a combination of the business’s revenue and number of employees. In Bothell, the fee is determined by the number of employees, the type of business and the size of the business in square feet.

Chris Griffin, owner of Spotlight Music, thinks the fee should be determined by the business’s revenue.

“A small business shouldn’t be penalized,” he said. “We’re pretty small, so that would make a difference.”

The money raised by the possible business license would give the city a new source of general fund revenue and could be used for services, capital improvements or economic development.

“There are costs associated with the business community which we’re not recovering now, and they kind of get a free ride,” Mayor Bernie Talmas said at the April 16 City Council meeting. “One’s infrastructure — particularly the recycling center. Other businesses that generate a lot of heavy truck traffic and tear up our roads — we get zero money from them if they don’t generate sales tax revenue for us. We supply law enforcement, which is a huge expense, and people sort of take that for granted, particularly businesses.”

Robb Anderson, owner of Northwest Trophy and Awards, said he supports a business license as long as the money raised by it is used to benefit businesses. Other business owners felt the same way.

“I think they should set it up so the business owners feel like they’re getting something out of it,” such as better signage to bring customers to businesses, Anderson said.

Jamie Peha, the managing director of Woodinville Wine Country, which represents more than 90 wineries, said a business license would be a “mixed bag” for Woodinville’s wineries, which already pay lots of fees to be open.

“Many of these businesses would probably feel like it’s another hit,” she said, but they would probably understand that Woodinville needs infrastructure to grow and to attract visitors. “I don’t think it would prohibit them from being here, or new wineries from coming here.”

She said wineries would likely prefer the money to be used for something that would benefit them, such as fixing traffic problems, improving outdated signs or creating a walkable downtown area to draw people to Woodinville.

Mike Rabas, owner of Woodinville Bicycle, said it would be “stupid” to pay a city business license when businesses already pay a state license, but he said the license wouldn’t affect his business. He hopes the money from the license won’t only be used to cover the costs of collecting it — a possibility that City Council discussed at their last meeting.

The City Council will continue to discuss the potential business license in the next few months before making a decision.

“If Woodinville chooses to do it, I certainly hope it’s a nominal cost,” Jeff Thomas, owner of Crossroad Sign, said. “Government and business leaders need to continue to make Woodinville a friendly place for business.”

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