PENDLETON - The Pendleton City Council will consider increasing business license fees at tonight's meeting to help pay for a new full time economic development director.

The council will meet at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers in City Hall, 500 S.W. Dorion Ave.

The city hasn't increased business license fees since June 1992. Under the proposed amended ordinance, the fees would double in cost. Businesses located within the city limits would pay $100 a year for a license and businesses outside the city limits, but doing business in the city, would pay $160 a year. The city also would require businesses to pay $20 per every full time equivalent employee, again doubling the old fee.

The total general business license fee would not exceed $1,000, twice the previous maximum.

Trade shows also would pay more, with license fees jumping to $300 from $200.

If approved, the new fee schedule would generate $74,000 for a new economic development position. The city has already allocated $37,000 from the general fund for the position.

The intention is to hire a full-time economic development director and have the position funded in a sustainable manner. The city, the Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Eastern Oregon Development Corporation are in discussions on performing the accounting and personnel administration of the position.

The new director would answer to a governing board consisting of two representatives from the city and one each from the chamber, RCDC and the GEODC.

Except for the makeup of the board, this is similar to the system the city and chamber established in November last year for administering the tourism promotion charge.

The idea for the business license increase comes from the Round-Up City Development Corporation, and the chamber is supportive.

RCDC Vice President Kevin Hale said the RCDC supports this move because the revenue generated will go toward establishing funding for a full time economic development position, which Hale foresees as a significant boon for Pendleton.

"We envision it as being the focal point for the area's economic development," Hale said.

He compared the local organizations that work in economic development as pieces to a puzzle, with this new position as the key that will bring those entities together to create a fuller, better picture.

That focus is needed, Hale said, considering the developments happening on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the progress of Barnhart Road and the continued interest in downtown's urban renewal.

The city has a part time economic development director.

Larry Dalrymple fills that role, but he also manages the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport and all of the city's airport properties. Mayor Phil Houk said Dalrymple would continue in that capacity, but Pendleton is overdue for having its own full time economic development director.

Houk said he has heard the message - from his advisers on the Pendleton Progress Board to state officials - that Pendleton needs this position.

"We're definitely in need of help with that area," he said. "We're in real need for a town of our size to have this."

Houk said having someone in a position with the authority to make decisions will make it easier for people to do business in Pendleton. Further, Houk said no one in Pendleton has taken this on as a full-time job with measurable standards that would have to be met, and the board will help ensure that happens.

"Those folks will oversee the position to make sure we're all working together and pushing forward with what we want to see that position accomplish," Houk said.

Just what those specifics are, however, have not been hammered out.

City Manager Larry Lehman said the position wouldn't be filled until at about January 2008. Between now and then, the interested parties will come up with a job description and a set of priorities.

While most City Council members are OK with the proposed concept they will consider tonight, some speculated about the position and what those priorities might be. Councilman John Brenne said family wage jobs should be at the top of the list, while Councilman Dan Ceniga said the new director will need to work with existing businesses to make sure needs are being met and to look at how to expand businesses now here.

None of the City Council members the EO was able to speak with specifically listed a focus on filling the 20-plus empty storefronts on Main Street as a top priority for the new director.

Brenne said Lehman, Dalrymple and RCDC have been working to fill those fronts, but it hasn't been enough.

"We just need to redouble our efforts to do that," he said.

Councilwoman Marjorie Iburg said as a commercial property owner she understands filling those buildings comes down to decisions between business owners and property owners, and it's not simply a matter of the city recruiting new businesses.

"It's not that those buildings aren't attempting to be filled ... It's a total community response, and when we show support for our local business that brings in other businesses," Iburg said.

She also said while the city can work to recruit a major business to the city, those kinds of businesses have their own strategy and schedules to follow.

Councilman Steve Bjerke said determining just what the top priorities should be requires considering all proposals and further study. Moreover, he said, whoever is hired also will have to develop into the job, which is itself a "long, slow process."

Houk said a lot will come down to how much the person knows about Pendleton - its inventory, what's available now and what is needed. From there, the mayor said he'd like to see the person work with local business to see what they need to expand and recruit new businesses and industry.

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