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Sat, Jan. 25

No exemptions on business license fees for Prescott

Owners of home and apartment rentals will not get a break in the City of Prescott’s business license requirements, after an effort to change the rules failed with the City Council this week.

Prescott city staff members had recommended a change to the business license program, which went into effect on Jan. 1, to exempt owners of long-term residential rentals from the requirement to get a $35 annual business license.

City Budget and Tax Manager Lars Johnson explained at the City Council’s Feb. 28 meeting that the residential-rental requirement had generated many questions and complaints from the rental owners.

To date, Johnson said, the city has licensed 638 of the community’s 3,482 residential rentals.

In response to the complaints and confusion, the budget and tax department recommended this week that the City Council reconsider the requirement for long-term residential rentals. For those owners who had already paid the fee, the staff was recommending refunds.

The proposal did not get that far, however.

With Councilman Steve Sischka absent from this week’s meeting, the vote ended in a 3-3 tie, causing the motion to fail.

Councilman Greg Lazzell, who had strongly opposed the idea of a city business-license program, suggested that the city to rethink the program.

“Now we’re making an exception because it’s unfair and confusing,” Lazzell said, adding, “I think we should just trash the whole thing.”

The two other council members who voted against the business license program (which passed by a 4-3 vote in May 2016) agreed.

“I didn’t support a business license to begin with,” Mayor Pro Tem Jim Lamerson said. “I saw this coming. We don’t have the resources to enforce (the license) on everybody equally, so we’re going to pick and choose.”

Councilman Steve Blair also opposed the program in 2016, and voted against the change this week.

The three remaining council members present at the meeting (Mayor Harry Oberg, and council members Billie Orr and Jean Wilcox) voted for the change, but because of the tie, the motion failed.

Tuesday’s vote might not be the end of matter, however. City Attorney Jon Paladini said after the meeting that council policy allows for any two council members to ask to have an issue reappear on a future council agenda.

Meanwhile, numbers from Johnson indicate that overall compliance with the city’s new business has been relatively sluggish.

Since Jan. 1, the city has received 2,170 applications for business licenses – compared with the rough estimate of 10,000 businesses in the community.

Johnson said on March 1 the city will enter the enforcement phase of the business-license implementation, which will begin with another round of letters notifying businesses that they must apply for a license.

The city’s two other new license requirements have also been slow to catch on. Along with the business license, a license for vacation rentals (short-term residential use of 30 days or less), and one for sober living homes also went into effect Jan. 1.

While the city had earlier estimated that about 100 sober living homes operate in the community, Johnson reported Tuesday that 13 sober living homes have so far applied for the new license.

Part of that can be attributed to the fact that a number of group homes in Prescott must register through the state, he said, which exempts them from the city license.

In addition, some sober living homes may have gone out of business or left the community since the city’s previous estimate, Johnson said, while others may have reduced their number of residents to four or fewer, which also exempts them from the city’s license requirement.

Vacation rental license compliance of 26 applications is also well below the city’s earlier estimate of about 150 properties.

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