Oneonta public hearing has surprising start

A Feb. 16 Oneonta public hearing to consider provisions for taxi and events business licenses began with a bit of a startling announcement. City manager/ economic development officer Ed Lowe reported the city’s sales tax collector, RDS (Revenue Discovery Systems), had advised the city of uncollected taxes from one business as far back as 2013. Lowe yielded to city attorney Alex Smith for more details.

Smith indicated that the unnamed business had reached agreement to settle the matter, previously, but failed to follow through. With the city threatening arrest and shuttering, the business finally paid the back taxes, late fee, and interest totaling over $22,000.

Detailing events, Lowe and Smith noted that RDS does not always know of businesses which have ceased operation and evidently had assumed that had been the case here. As RDS learned differently, they had contacted the business and worked out a payment plan. Apparently, the business personnel did not carry through and appeared to pay their regular business license charge on Jan. 31 but city officials refused reissuance of the license.

With the threat of closure and jail, business officers frantically reached out for resolution. According to Smith, officers had first alleged they had not received notice of the delinquencies, but records indicated otherwise.

The receipted payment permitted the business to continue uninterrupted operation. Smith reported the Feb. 16 meeting provided the business a required appellate opportunity. No one from the business appeared at the meeting.

Following that announcement, Lowe moved into the originally stated purpose of the meeting. He explained that the city license ordinance had not provided for taxi services, special transportation, or vehicles for hire. City officials had prepared an amendment to the ordinance to address those.

Public safety director/administrator Brandon Horton explained city officers first realized the omission when approached by an air medical transport service. From that, city employees decided to update the ordinance and add taxi and limousine services.

After that explanation and exchanges with some city council members, Lowe moved to the next matter: itinerant businesses. In his explanation, Lowe noted that the city code had perhaps been “overly aggressive or oppressive” toward these businesses.

He explained that the original intent had been to protect local businesses from undue outside competition. Unfortunately, that effort resulted in limiting services when some local businesses had closed during the economic downturn beginning a dozen or so years ago and the outside entities felt licensing charges too expensive for relatively small projects.

With those closings, locals could not, at times, find contractors willing to assume jobs in the city. The change will permit a friendlier climate for these.

Altering events licensing procedures drew final consideration. The proposed change would align the city with state alcohol licensing. The change creates two categories: one for up to a seven-day period and another for unlimited events during a calendar year.

Under audience questioning, Lowe and Smith explained that the change would be “site-specific.” In their explanations, they made reference to events held at the Blount County-Oneonta Agri-Business Center as most likely affected. In the council meeting following the nearly 25-minute public hearing, members approved the proposed license amendments.