PENDLETON - On Tuesday night, the City Council continued a discussion on a possible fee increase for local businesses to support an economic development position. The council did not reach a decision, but tabled it until the next session when the Round-Up City Development Corporation will give a presentation.
The RCDC recommended the city double the cost of business license fees to help pay for a new economic development director. Under the proposed amended ordinance, 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 with more than five full-time equivalent employees to pay $20 per 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.
Though the decision on the matter was tabled until the next council meeting, members of the public spoke on the matter.
Several community members and business owners asked for more clarification on what the economic development position will entail before they are willing to open their cash registers.
Terry Clarke, owner of Pioneer Construction and Pendleton Ready-Mix, asked why the council did not have standards and goals in place prior to proposing the rate increase.
"Here we're raising money, but we don't know what we're raising money for," he said.
Mayor Phil Houk said the question would be answered partially at the RCDC presentation during the next meeting.
Houk added that many entities, including the Chamber of Commerce and RCDC, want to work together to determine the goals of the office.
City Manager Larry Lehman pointed out the city didn't want to spend the time researching and deciding on the goals of a position if the funding never came through. Rather, it wanted to wait until the funding was approved.
Clarke countered, asking how the city knew how much the economic development position would cost if the city didn't know what its responsibilities and goals would be.
"I just want us to be fiscally responsible with a goal in mind not just to raise money," Clarke said.
"We've got to start somewhere," Houk said.
Houk said they also used other entities such as the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation's budgeted amount for a similar position.
City Councilman John Boston agreed the city needed to make a start when it came to funding.
"You have to have a little courage to step forward and make an investment," he said.
Bill Alexander, owner of BAF Consulting, also questioned the city's procedure in increasing the fees, but said he's not against economic development.
"We're not here to debate economic development," Alexander said. "That's not the issue. Economic development is crucial. The issue really is the fact that we were asked to increase fees without a clear explanation from (city) staff."
Alexander said he would be more than willing to pay the fee if he knew where the money was going.
"It's the process," he said.
Chamber of Commerce members also spoke in support of the new position.