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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Town mulls benefits of enacting contractor fee

BERLIN — The Berlin Mayor and Council this week took up the issue of whether out-of-town contractors should pay a fee before they can perform work in the Town and, if so, how high the fee should be and how the rates should be structured.
Although in-town businesses are required to have a business license to run their businesses from Berlin, contractors from neighboring or even out-of-state concerns are not required to register in any way with the town.
Requiring contractors to pay a fee to register or be licensed with a municipality is a common practice. Town Administrator Tony Carson told the Mayor and Council that the cost of this licenses is a common question his office, and the office of Planning and Zoning receives regularly.
Out-of-town businesses are often pleased with the fact that Berlin is one of the few towns that has none, which some believe is a selling point for not instituting a rate. There is also the question of whether the Town staff has the capacity to administer and regulate an additional license program.
“It’s worked this way for years,” said Councilwoman Paula Lynch. “Why is [Planning and Zoning Supervisor Chuck Ward] going to chase around and look at what trucks are in town.”
He concern was that Ward take his primary responsibility in enforcing the new and more clearly defined property maintenance rules the Council passed this winter.
Defining which contractors would be required to pay was also an issue for the Council.
Councilman Elroy Brittingham said that while he favored construction companies and other contractors of significant size paying a fee, someone who, for instance, lived outside of Town and cut fewer than 5 lawns a week shouldn’t have to pay. Lynch pointed out that this was the very regulatory problem that concerned her. Figuring out who had to pay and who didn’t and then discovering whether everyone who was supposed to pay and if they did, just didn’t seem worth it to her.
She also said she worried about the additional layer of government regulation and the appearance that Berlin was not business friendly.
It was an assertion that Councilwoman Lisa Hall, who has experience as an out-of-town contractor disagreed. She said in her business she would often way the price of getting a contractor’s license with the cost of joining the Chamber of Commerce, which would include networking opportunities.
Hall said that choosing to have a fee would not make the Town less business friendly.
“I don’t think it’s a revenue thing,” she said of the proposed fee. “I don’t think it should be exorbitant.”
The Council discussed amounts around $150 annually. Those in support of the measure wanted to make sure it was a flat fee rather than an algorithm based on volume.
In some Towns, the cost of getting a license is tied to the amount of business a company expects to do, which was a process Hall said she always found a little odious.
“I think that as looking at it as a contractor’s way,” she said. “It was easier to pay the flat fee than to … look up the percentages.”
On the operational side, Ward said that his office wouldn’t act as a referral service but would be able to verify which companies were already cleared to work in Berlin.
He said that a lot of non-resident property owners get in touch with his office to work to rectify a maintenance violation but that, as it stands, there is no approved contractor list for him to share with them.
Ward said the result is often that absentee owners select contractors nearly at random from the Internet.
The Council also discussed whether it was equitable to continue to charge local taxpayers for business licenses but not have a similar requirement for those who make their livings in Berlin by have their businesses outside of it.
“I’m concerned that we’re being unfair to the folks who live here,” Mayor Gee Williams said.
After continued debate the Council elected to table the matter until they had more information on the matter, including the kinds of contractors that would be recommended as payees and the likely number of contractors from other towns currently working in Berlin.
“It’s not an emergency,” said Williams. “But at least lets find out what we’re talking about in terms of actual volume.”