Baltimore Co. delegation backs hikes in business, alcohol license fees

March 11, 2011|By Raven L. Hill, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County's House and Senate delegations have voted to support County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's push to raise liquor and business license fees.

Most of the fees have not been changed in more than 40 years. Kamenetz has described the increases as modest, affecting chain stores, parking garage operators, dry cleaners, restaurant owners and other businesses.

State officials said they worked out a compromise with Kamenetz that lowered the increases and would not give the county authority to adjust the rates without further General Assembly approval. The measure still needs approval from the full legislature, though delegation-approved bills with local impact generally win passage.

Kamenetz initially sought an extra $2.1 million annually from the fee hikes. The revised proposal, approved by the House delegation Friday, is expected to generate about $1.2 million annually.

"The last thing that I want to do is vote for anything that I would believe is an unnecessary fee increase, but these are necessary fees," said Del. Eric Bromwell, a Democrat. "They need to cover the cost of doing business."

County officials said they discussed the proposed changes with representatives of the Maryland Retailers Association, the Restaurant Association of Maryland, the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association and small-business owners.

The Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce remains opposed to the legislation, although its president, Keith Baird Scott, said he was pleased to see that the amount of the increase was lowered.

Scott said he's concerned about the potential negative consequences that small businesses will face as a result of higher fees.

"I don't think that's the most productive way in an economy that is just coming out of a recession with rising oil costs," Scott said. "We're not satisfied."

Kamenetz spoke about the fees with members of the county delegation two weeks ago in Annapolis, noting that many don't even cover processing and administrative costs. The county expects to receive an additional $917,000 from the business licensing fee increases and $350,580 from the liquor license hikes. With the county facing a $38.5 million revenue shortfall and many millions more in state aid cuts, every dollar counts, Kamenetz said.

raven.hill@baltsun.com

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