Fort Smith Business Owners React To Possible License Fees

FORT SMITH (KFSM) -- An ordinance that would charge Fort Smith business owners a $100 license fee survives its first test.

City directors approved a first reading Tuesday (Dec. 5) night by a four to three vote, but a final decision hasn't been made.

The ordinance needed five votes in order to waive the required three readings, so it will be read two more times before it goes into effect. Board members could vote on the issue before the readings.

It was an emotional meeting with some board members saying the fee would make it even harder on local business owners, while other said the funding is needed in the police department.

Three residents came forward at the meeting to voice their opinion against the fee. One business owner said she along with other owners already have a hard time.

"I would just like the directors to understand that it sends a very poor message to the public, said business owner Kelly Pierce.

City administrator, Carl Geffken said if passed, the business licensing fee could add $500,000 to the board's general fund.

"I am for it because I think it will bring in a lot of money for the city which I think will be good. We're always willing to do whatever to help the city. We will have to kind of prioritize our money," said Indie store owner Naomi Lee. "It makes sense to be against it. Not necessarily pay fees for multiple things. Say, 'now we have a business license fee' are they going to give a fee for something else in the future?"

The board went back and forth in discussion about where that money would go before ultimately deciding that it will go into the general fund.Director George Catsavis mentioned that the money should be earmarked for the Fort Smith Police Department.

Vice Mayor and Director Kevin Settle said he voted no because he watched his parents struggle day to day while owning their own business and he doesn't want that for local owners.

"Businesses are what keep the city going," Settle said. "The citizens and the businesses keep the city going and I felt that posing another tax on our businesses would only make it harder for the city to people who do business in the city of Fort Smith. So, I voted no."

As for the other side, 5NEWS spoke with director, Andre Good off-camera and he said the money should go where it's most needed and in the meeting, he said that's the police department. Good voted in favor of the ordinance and told 5NEWS that he doesn't plan on changing his mind before the second reading at the next meeting.

An amendment to that ordinance also passed which would waive the license fee for owners during their first year of business.

The next board meeting is December 19.