BERLIN — The fate of out-of-town contractors’ wallets is still undecided after the Berlin Mayor and Council last month chose to delay a vote on whether to develop new fees specifically for that group.
Hoping to generate a registry of non-Berlin contractors as well as even the playing field for town businesses that do have to buy a license every year, the council debated the benefits of levying an out-of-town contractor fee. Councilwoman Paula Lynch spoke out against the idea on the grounds that it would discourage business in Berlin.
“I think we’re opening up a can of worms and it is government intrusion,” she said.
As it stands, Berlin charges contractors who have a physical location within town limits a fee of $75 per year. Visiting contractors who are based in another area, however, are charged nothing and aren’t required to notify the town of their presence.
“Right now, we currently don’t have registration for outside contractors,” said Town Administrator Tony Carson. “We want to know who is doing business in town.”
Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward explained to the council that the fee would have more of an organizational impact than a fiscal one.
“We don’t really have that active list of contractors to pull from,” he said.
Councilmember Lisa Hall reinforced that perception.
“I really think that it’s not a money maker for most towns … it just puts everybody on notice,” she said.
Hall stated that the fee shouldn’t be “exuberant” either.
The arguments didn’t placate Lynch, however.
“It’s more government fees,” she said. “We don’t have to go that route.”
While Ward presented a list of other towns in the surrounding counties that do levy an outside contractor fee, Lynch pointed out that Berlin was geographically and culturally different than some of those areas, especially resorts.
“The beach is so different because you’ve got so many absent [property] owners,” she said.
Lynch also rehashed the case against fees that she originally made when the item appeared before the council, albeit briefly, in April.
“Where are you guys going to draw these lines?” she asked.
While the fees might be manageable for large construction or service firms, Lynch was wary of dropping the fee on less established out-of-town operators, such as lawn care companies.
“We’re going to be sitting up here every week making an exception to this,” she predicted.
Mayor Gee Williams told the board that he was sympathetic to both directions, but did feel that the current situation is tilted against contractors located in Berlin.
“I’m concerned about being unfair to folks that stay here, live here,” he said.
Williams suggested tabling the issue for now, noting that it “wasn’t an emergency” and the council needed more time to weigh their options. Councilmanr Dean Burrell was also absent from the meeting and with Councilman Troy Purnell, a contractor and developer, abstaining from the discussion, Williams felt that the best option would be to wait for a full council.
The only potential number to be mentioned by Carson so far for the fee would be doubling the $75 in-town rate to $150. However, he emphasized that it was only a working figure and that the council could choose any amount.