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City cuts business fees

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Businesses, from accountants to wood yards, had license fees slashed or removed entirely Monday after an amended ordinance passed unanimously in Winter Springs.

The City Commission voted 5-0 to update its Business Tax Receipts (BTR), including what’s by far its most expensive: fortune tellers. That includes astrologers, palm readers, clairvoyants, phrenologists, spiritualists, “crystal gazers,” seers, character readers, spirit mediums, hypnotists, absent-treatment healers and faith healers. That fee is $1,250. The next highest is $450 for a trailer park with more than 100 spaces.

Commissioners and staff were quick to point out that the fees are not intended to make money for the city, but rather to help collect data and to enforce city codes.

“The BTR is a tax,” City Attorney Anthony Garganese said. “However, the information that’s obtained from that application regarding businesses more often than not is a trigger point of information for further evaluation and analysis for code compliance. It is an important piece of information relative to businesses.”

“If anything, it costs us… this is not a financial revenue source. It’s not a moneymaker,” Mayor Kevin McCann said.

The Florida Legislature recently passed statute 559.955, removing control from cities over many types of home businesses, causing cities to scramble to find ways to prevent unwanted businesses from spilling out of homes and into front yards and driveways. Many restrictions on home businesses are still covered by city code. The BTR process helps the city keep a registry of businesses so that they can more easily maintain that they’re up to code.

“When a new business is coming in the city, and staff is going over the BTR application, that’s a golden opportunity to say, ‘OK, you’ve got your landscaping business, but you can’t store five trucks and three trailers at your home, so for that you need to look elsewhere for a storage yard,’” Deputy Mayor Kevin Cannon said.

Resident William Morrissey asked whether the city should know what’s going on in people’s homes.

“If somebody in this time and age is working at home, do we really care 100% what they’re doing?” he asked. “The neighbors are going to let us know if it’s not right.”

“I don’t know if that’s legal, I don’t know, but if that’s some information that we should have, if somebody’s storing dangerous chemicals in their garage, we would probably want to know about it and are they keeping it safe so that their neighbors aren’t in danger?” Commissioner Matt Benton said.

Cannon said that the fees the city charges to process businesses isn’t the point. Rather, the data helps the city regulate businesses more easily.

“I really want to make sure that we’re getting the data that will help us,” he said.

The ordinance and changes to fees can be seen here.

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