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Council to tackle business licenses

City Council
Apr. 21, 2013 @ 10:30 PM

HUNTINGTON -- A review of the city of Huntington's business licensing laws provided a steady dose of humor during a City Council work session last week.

As Finance Director Deron Runyon went through a list of just a few of the 41 business licensing categories on the books, it became increasingly clear that the laws haven't been updated in years. Forty-nine years, to be exact.

The laws include a slew of specific licenses for businesses such as pawn brokers; traveling events like circuses, carnivals and wild west shows; coin-operated machines (there's a section dedicated to vibrating beds); and trailer parks. Runyon asked council members to cue the "Sanford and Son" theme song when he got to the license for junk dealers. A few responded by humming the catchy tune.

Jokes aside, the review was to show council members that the city's business licensing process is cumbersome and antiquated. Streamlining that process starts Monday when the council considers eight ordinances on first reading that whittle those 41 licensing categories down to five.

The change is part of an effort to make City Hall a friendlier place for business owners. In addition to streamlining licenses, City Council approved Mayor Steve Williams' proposal to hire a business services concierge next fiscal year to assist people when they come to City Hall.

Reducing the number of business categories in Huntington was made possible because of a law that the West Virginia Legislature passed in 2011. The law allows cities to create one general business license, provided that they do not charge more than $20 per year.

The idea behind the law originated in Wheeling, which, like Huntington, is a participant in the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program. Wheeling used its expanded authority under the program to adopt a local ordinance that reduced the number of its business licenses. The measure was viewed as successful, so it was passed statewide.

Condensing dozens of categories into one general license and charging a uniform $20 annual fee will provide consistency to business owners and make the process easier to manage, Runyon said. As a requirement of state law, Huntington will maintain different licenses for contractors, real estate, insurance agents and businesses whose profits come from beer, wine and liquor sales.

Huntington City Council will meet at 7:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 800 5th Ave. Council meetings are televised live on public access channel 24 on the Comcast Cable system.

Follow H-D reporter Bryan Chambers on Facebook or Twitter @BryanChambersHD.

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