The Fort Morgan City Council unanimously disapproved an ordinance that would have implemented a city-wide business licensing program Tuesday night, Sept. 17.
That action came after the council members heard significant public concerns presented to them before and during the public hearing Tuesday.
Before hearing public comments in the hearing, city staff provided some background and specific changes to the ordinance that they proposed to the council, based off of the feedback they had already received.
Deputy City Manager/City Clerk/Public Information Officer John Brennan explained that since he had joined the city nine years ago, Fort Morgan had not issued business licenses, even though it said in the Fort Morgan Municipal Code that they did.
Brennan said he had researched business licensing programs for the city for a project several years ago as part of a certification program, presented it to council and received direction from the council back in 2016 to move forward with it.
The proposed and now disapproved ordinance would have replaced the current section of the code that says the city has a business licensing program.
City Manager Jeff Wells thanked area residents for their prior feedback and for coming out to the meeting to further share their perspectives.
He said they had met with area real estate agents to hear their concerns about the proposed licensing program earlier in the day on Tuesday.
Wells highlighted several areas of concern he had heard, including how this program could benefit local businesses and whether it would have consistent enforcement across businesses, among others.
Interim City Attorney Nina Williams ran through the proposed ordinance and its two parts, highlighting several sections the council could change based off of council and public feedback.
Williams explained that the first part addressed business licenses for businesses that operate in the city, and the second would apply to “peddlers, solicitors and nonresident vendors.”
After about an hour and a half of public comment and council discussion, the council ultimately decided to pass a resolution to disapprove the proposed ordinance.
Each councilmember shared the feedback he or she had heard from constituents and concerns after hearing further comment during the meeting Tuesday. Councilmember Allison Howe was not present due to being sick, according to Mayor Ron Shaver.
None of the councilmembers expressed support of passing the ordinance on Tuesday night.
The councilmembers discussed several options to meet a need for more comprehensive information about the businesses operating in the area and to incorporate feedback to ensure the city remained “business-friendly.”
These included enforcing the currently unenforced section in the municipal code that calls for business licensing or forming a committee of area business leaders and stakeholders to help draft a different ordinance, among others. No direction was given to staff and no decisions were made about this Tuesday night.
Wells, Shaver and the councilmembers thanked the members of the public for sharing their concerns and feedback with the council before and during the public hearing.
The council heard from at least half a dozen area business owners during the public comment section Tuesday night, while several dozen area residents and business owners filled the City Council Chambers.
Larry French of Larry French Accounting in Fort Morgan started off the public comments. He confirmed with City Manager Wells that this was a precursor for the council to consider passing a self-collecting sales tax.
Wells and Connie Musgrave with the city’s Utility Billing Department explained that the two were connected, but separate issues. If the question of a self-collecting sales tax came to the city council, it would need to go through a public hearing, as well.
Paramount Technologies owner Christian Watt said he is actually in favor of a business licensing program. His business is based in Fort Morgan and Brush, and he is active in the Brush Area Chamber of Commerce.
However, he said, he had issues with the proposed ordinances and listed the specific areas and notes he had throughout the text of the ordinance.
Morgan County Commissioner, business owner and Vice President of Government and Business at Viaero Wireless Jon Becker also expressed his opposition to the proposed ordinance.
He described the ordinance as “unenforceable” and said he believed it went “way too far.” He said implementing that ordinance could place an undue burden on “brick and mortar” businesses and force businesses out.
Brian Urdiales, an area real estate agent who is also running unopposed for the Ward 1 Fort Morgan City Council seat in the November 2019 election, shared his concerns and presented opposition to the ordinance on behalf of several other real estate agents.
Several people criticized the city council for not knowing the ordinance well when presented with questions about specific components of the text.
When Councilmember David Fowler out the prevalence of the business licensing programs in other communities across the state, particularly on the Front Range, many audience members responded from their seats that Fort Morgan is “not the Front Range.”
Some of the public concerns included the proposed ordinance having an overly inclusive definition of a “business” or “business owner,” placing an extra burden on in-town, smaller businesses and having an extra level of government procedures to go through to do business.
After the public comment period, the councilmembers each presented their perspectives and discussed options for the city moving forward.
The council then voted unanimously to disapprove the ordinance.
The council did not direct staff or set a date for when this issue could come back to the council.
Kara Morgan: firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-441-5103
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