Archive for Thursday, July 18, 2002

County needs to define benefits of rural registration

July 18, 2002

Last year, Douglas County government discovered the need to register businesses in the unincorporated areas of the county. The effort has had less than a successful start. Only one of what the county suspects are what it calls Type 3 businesses those with more than four employees and requiring 3,600 square foot of occupied space registered before a May 1 deadline.

Part of the problem must be laid with the county. It has yet to decide what to do with the information it collects. It seems there would be opportunities for direct-marketing ventures. But we have witnessed business registration efforts abandoned in other jurisdictions on this issue when it was decided the enforcement hassles outweighed any of the program's benefits

Many of those enforcement pitfalls stemmed from registered businesses reporting those who weren't. When registration brings inspections, higher tax rates on that part of their property deemed commercial and an added level of paperwork and fees, there is reason for resentment and avoidance.

We certainly hope the county doesn't see the registration as a revenue source. Given the low participation, any real effort at enforcement would likely consume any revenue the county earns from the program.

The county's stated motivation for the program is to get a better handle on commercial activities in the rural areas. The registration will allow it to better track traffic and noise associated with these endeavors, officials said.

It is difficult to discern what the county would do with that information, because it apparently has no way to compel home-based businesses to change their operations. Rezoning from agricultural to commercial, which would give the county that kind of leverage, is to be one of the options open to those businesses conducted on rural property without a residence.

Again, we understand why rural business owners would look at the program's many down sides and come to the conclusion there is nothing in it for them. As a motivation, the county could share its list with local economic development groups as a business directory.

In our view, the county needs to better define the objectives and benefits of the program. If it can't provide a more compelling reason than it has produced to date, perhaps it should reconsider the need to register home-based businesses that don't require rezoning. One smart step would be to sit down with some small business owners and find out what their needs are and for the county to sponsor programming to fit these needs.

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