Our View: Occupational license see crackdown good move for parish

Published 8:31 am Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A concerted endeavor by Washington Parish officials to identify and flush out businesses which are delinquent in paying their annual occupational license fee is not only a prudent financial decision but will also send a message that transgressions of the past will no longer be tolerated in the future.

For too many years businesses have been allowed to stiff the parish for the annual $25 fee, costing a penny-pinching parish thousands of valuable dollars that could be used to balance an already stretched budget. Most importantly, those businesses are extracting dollars from taxpayers’ pockets, and that is no longer acceptable.

The parish must shoulder some of the blame, as for years past administrations elected not to mail renewal notices to businesses. Ignorance of the law is never an excuse but a reminder such as an annual bill leaves the business owner no plausible excuse for not remitting the payment.

But Parish President Richard Thomas and his staff have recognized the mistakes and are working to collect what is owed.

Enforcement of the policy by having the parish code enforcement officer pay random visits to businesses as well as cross-checking the sales tax database against the occupational license roster should reap somewhat of a financial harvest as well as level the playing field for all involved. The practice of some business owners to skip paying the fee, whether through blatant arrogance or simply forgetting, is not fair to honest entrepreneurs who follow the law and pay up. As usual, the majority suffers for the idiocy of a few.

Admittedly, effective collection of the fee is not the financial panacea needed to correct all of the parish’s woes, but every penny will make a difference as officials attempt to meet a Dec. 31 deadline to avoid a potential fiscal Armageddon.

Parish officials are also correct in considering changing the way the fee is structured. The current $25 tab is laughable and must be adjusted for the upcoming year.

The low cost of conducing business in Washington Parish is a valuable amenity to be sure but maintaining a fee that does not even cover expenses is nonsensical. Initiating a schedule based on a business’s gross revenue should be the new standard by which fees are structured. Adopting anything less would leave too many dollars on the table.

Parish finance director Donna Alonzo recently provided examples of the new fees based on gross revenue and the effect is minimal.

For a business with $1.2 million in gross revenue, the new fee would be $1,200; $500 for a business with gross revenue of $500,000; and $150 for a gross revenue of $150,000. Those are hardly invasive numbers. Rather, they reflect totals that are fair and consistent with the cost of doing business in Washington Parish.

Implementation of that fee structure beginning Jan. 1 will aid in replenishing parish coffers. Of course, officials must rely on the integrity of business owners, even those who have elected to impose of their own fiscal skullduggery by skipping out of past fees, but comparing databases will be the most effective check and balance.

The Daily News has obtained a partial list of offenders and once the parish completes its investigation the complete list will be published. For the good of all residents who may have to dig deeper in their own pockets because of the arrogance of some, one can only hope the list is small.