Berlin Officials To Address Business Fees

Berlin Officials To Address Business Fees
The Berlin Town Council discusses the budget last month. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

BERLIN – Town officials are preparing to update the municipality’s fee structure.

Last week, the Berlin Town Council introduced an ordinance that would give the town the ability to charge business license fees to any businesses that operate in town, not just those with physical locations in town.

“There is a public hearing on this that will be held Monday June 12,” Mayor Zack Tyndall said.

Last month, council members agreed to increase the town’s business license fee, which hadn’t been adjusted since it was established, to $150. At the same time, officials agreed to explore the possibility of implementing what is often called a trader’s license. With that, businesses operating in town, such as plumbing and HVAC companies, would have to pay a fee to do business in town whether they have a physical location in town or not. Historically, business license fees in Berlin have been charged only to businesses that have physical locations in town. Service companies and contractors, however, typically expect to pay some sort of business license or traders license fee when they do work in a new town. In Ocean City, for example, contractors are charged business license fees based on their number of employees. A contractor with six to 10 employees has to pay a license fee of $233 to work in the resort.

David Gaskill, the town’s attorney, told the council during last week’s meeting that the proposed ordinance being presented would change the definition of business.

“That amendment is going to change the definition to ‘business or business establishment means any retail, service, rental or professional business entity operating within or providing services within the town, regardless of whether said business or business establishment is physically located within the corporate limits of the town,’” Gaskill said.

He said the change was as a result of officials’ desire to charge a licensing fee to any businesses operating in the town, not just those with shops in town.

“This is a first reading so we don’t have to take any action this evening,” Tyndall said.

Councilman Steve Green said that while the council was on the topic of updating license fees he wanted to point out that the long-term rental license fee in Berlin was $10.

“That seems really low,” Green said, pointing out that a short-term rental license was $350.

Dave Engelhart, the town’s planning director, said he’d been commenting for years that the rental license fee was too low.

“I think we could consider making a change to that,” Green said.

Tyndall said fees had to be attributed directly to costs.

“The costs of managing those licenses has increased,” he said. “For the past 10 years we have not moved on the fee itself.”

He suggested officials look at fees in neighboring jurisdictions. Green said he already had. He said the fee in Salisbury was $120 annually. In Ocean City, the fee for single family units is $116.

Town Administrator Mary Bohlen noted that while Berlin’s fee had been $10 for some time, it was charged per unit, so a single-family house was being charged $10 while a large apartment building was being charged based on its number of units. She said staff could draft an ordinance to update the fee and present it to the council at a future meeting.

Tyndall said the June 12 meeting would be too busy but said it would be presented during the summer.

“I don’t think we’re up against a timeline on that fee,” he said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.