By Anna Lothson
Most municipalities require businesses to have a permit to operate, and Oak Park is no different.
But those permits, viewed merely as a tax to some, serve a more important purpose in the village. The fee can range from $50 to around $1,000, depending on the type of business and number of specific licenses it needs, but the power to keep track and enforce violations is the true purpose for business licensing.
Village Clerk Teresa Powell brought the issue up at a recent board meeting, saying a significant amount of businesses do not renew by deadline. In fact, in 2010 only 50 percent renewed on time, and in 2011, the delinquent number was reduced to 30 percent.
"What we're trying to do is bring things into line to have timely payment," she said.
Powell said the delinquency rate indicates the village should change its schedule for when businesses must renew, which is currently Jan. 1. She suspects the timing causes the constant delays.
Some communities have extreme fees, she said, but this change may actually reduce the late fee and offer incentives to obtain a license in a timely manner. The goal is also to send out renewal notices earlier in the year so there isn't a frenzy to buy at deadline.
Powell suggested having the date bumped to before the end of the year would achieve a better compliance rate. She assumes many of the business owners think there is a grace period for renewing licenses when there is not.
If a business was to open without a license, there is typically no fine; rather, the village simply reminds the updated license is needed. A late fee does apply to current businesses. Businesses that move or change ownership must also inform the village so records are kept current.
"We want to not spend so much staff time chasing down the strays," Powell said.
Eventually the village has a 99 percent compliance rate, Powell said, but it's the lag time that is reason enough for the change. Having business licenses up to date allows the village to regulate if a business is operating illegally.
The ordinance amendment went through its first reading at the July 16 meeting and is expected to be approved at the July 30 meeting.