Editorial: Laurens County Council should consider a county business license
Laurens County Council has begun discussions on a new budget that is reported to be $1 million in the red. The document hasn’t actually been produced yet, so we don’t know if there is $1 million in “fat” to be trimmed during budget workshops. We hope council will consider – in addition to cutting expenditures – a “revenue enhancement” idea. Council should give careful and candid consideration to implementing a county business license in the unincorporated areas. Currently, there is no business license, a direct cost to do business outside the city limits. Every business in the cities pays such a license fee, which is a way of paying a portion of the cost of government. It also gives the city a way to regulate businesses. A county business license would be based on the total gross revenue of the business during a calendar year. As it is for businesses in the cities, the gross income would be verified by the tax returns filed with the S.C. Department of Revenue. The county business license would be based on gross income – not on profit. There would be no deductions. The ordinance creating the license would have a number of different business categories and the amount each business pays would be based on the category it is in. But that wheel has already been invented and would not be cumbersome for the county attorney to put together. The license would apply to rental property, insurance offices, those self employed as well as retail businesses. Wholesalers – a business that creates a product that is sells to be resold – would not pay a business license. That product would be taxed or subject to a business license at the other end when it is sold for consumption or use. If the product is warehoused or sold to an end user, a business license would be required. Building supply companies who sell to a contractor would need a license. By law, utilities governed by the Public Service Commission would be exempt, although utilities not owned by the cities could be charged a franchise fee. Currently, only eight of South Carolina’s 46 counties require business licenses – Beaufort, Charleston, Dorchester, Horry, Jasper, Marion, Richland and Sumter. In “the good old days” there were certainly advantages to a business being inside municipal limits and those advantages made paying a business license palatable to the businesses in the cities. The availability of utilities, the cost of utilities, better and quicker police protection and response, better fire protection and emergency medical services, better maintained streets, better public lighting around businesses and parking lots and amenities such as parks and recreational opportunities. Those days are gone. The only differences between a business located on the city side of the city limits and a business located just on the other side of the city limits are a city limits sign and a business license. Laurens County Council just recently discussed an annual inspection fee for junkyards before deciding on a 4-3 vote the $50 fee is too onerous. One reason given – by Chairman Joe Wood -- for scraping the fee is that someone would have to responsible for sending a letter every year to the 26 junkyards in the county to let them know the fee is due. If that logic holds, then council will be overwhelmed by the prospect of sending out business license renewals every January. But we can testify the City of Clinton has no such problem sending this newspaper a business license application, accepting our money and then issuing the license itself. We don’t know how much revenue a county business license would generate. But rather than complain every year that the county is being robbed by the S.C. General Assembly for not returning all the Local Government Fund money the county is owed, the county could be proactive. A business license fee would not be popular. We are sure of that. But what are businesses in the county going to do – threaten to move into the cities?