City software can't handle business license updates

Enterprise City Clerk/Treasurer Bob Dean and Chief Revenue Officer Tracey Brown

The city’s computer software cannot handle the updated Enterprise business license fees set to begin Jan. 1, 2020.

That was the report that Enterprise Chief Revenue Officer Tracey Brown gave to those attending the Enterprise City Council Work Session Aug. 20.

Enterprise City Clerk/Treasurer Bob Dean said he had asked Brown to report on the status of the new license fees which had been approved by the council in 2018. “I know there have been some complications as far as Munis software in dealing with the new business license fees being implemented in 2020,” he said.

That is true, Brown said. “I was asked to reach out to Munis to see if they could possibly implement the ordinance in its entirety,” she said. “I just got an email dated this morning, (Aug. 20) at 9:31 a.m., that the escalator projection, there is no way to do it.”

At issue is the new business license fees that the council introduced at the Nov. 20, 2018 council meeting after two public hearings Nov. 13, 2018 and months of city council discussions.

The proposed fee schedule is the first fee adjustment in more than four decades and is expected to both generate revenue and establish license fee equity for smaller businesses.

The license fee issue came to the council table while councilmen chiseled what Council President Perry Vickers called a “bare bones budget” for the first fiscal year in office, which did balance but did not include capital improvement projects.

Colorado-based PremaCorp was hired by the city to identify unlicensed businesses operating in the city, to collect from those noncompliance businesses and to review the existing Business License Code.

At the Enterprise City Council meeting Dec. 4, 2018 the council voted to table the new business license fee scale, set to begin Jan. 1, 2019, that had been introduced at the council meeting Nov. 20, 2018.

What was passed at the Dec. 4 meeting was Ordinance 12-04-18-a which allows for a business license issuance fee of $12 per license and a minimum business license of $50 to begin Jan. 1, 2019.

Dean said at that time that an additional year would give the revenue department more time to process the changes, a project expected to take some 700 man hours to complete.

At the Aug. 20 work session Brown explained that the fee structure ordinance had allowed for an incremental increase each year but that the software would not be able to compute that. “That has been my stance from the very beginning,” she said.

“Did you voice these concerns to anybody before we ever voted on it?” asked Councilman Al Miller.

“Yes,” Brown replied.

“When I was spoken to about the ordinance, we did a mock run just on the basis of how long it would take to make those changes and it (was estimated that it) would take about 700 man hours,” Brown said. “In that particular calendar year, we didn’t even have 700 man hours left.”

Brown said she was hired as Chief Revenue Officer in August 2018 and had, at that time, attended training with Sharon Clemmons “who other cities across the state of Alabama call—and actually Munis calls her too—to consult on things they can do for their system.

“The day I was up there in April, I said we can’t do (install new ordinance on Munis software) because Sharon (Clemmons) said it cannot be done,” Brown said. “That’s when I then vocally voiced my concerns about this ordinance.”

“Were you ever told that you weren’t an elected official and what you thought didn’t matter?” asked Miller, reading the questions from notes.

“Yes, I was,” Brown replied.

“Were you ever asked to leave out information that you would consider that the mayor and council needed to hear before they made a decision on this business license ordinance or the revision of it?” Miller asked Brown.

“I was told council makes policy and that I am not to interject in policy,” Brown replied.

“Who told you that?” Miller asked.

Dean raised his hand. “The city clerk/treasurer,” Brown said.

“Was Mr. Vickers involved in it in any way?” Miller asked, referring to Council President Perry Vickers.

“Mr. Vickers asked me to give issues with solutions and so I did that for the issues that I saw where we would possibly lose money or where it would be difficult for us to implement because when we proposed the ordinance to our constituents, we said it would be fair, balanced and simplified while increasing revenues,” Brown said. “Well, my scenarios show we would lose about $200,000.”

“So, if we vote on it now, we would lose $200,000?” asked Miller.

“It’s already voted on,” Brown replied.

“Why did we even vote on it before we knew all the facts if nobody was a (Munis) ‘guru’?” Miller asked. “We’ve been hiring ‘gurus’ to figure out these problems in the past. Why didn’t we get somebody before we voted on it?”

“That’s why we asked for a delay back when we were assembling this back last year,” Dean said. “Because we knew immediately some of the difficulties and the unknown variables that were going to be in place. that’s why I requested to go ahead and delay this.

“Munis doesn’t know if there is another software system that will interface with them that could do this,” Dean added. “They just know that they can’t.”

“In fairness, PremaCorp projections did show a revenue increase,” said Councilman Turner Townsend.

“It showed an increase but it didn’t show what the decrease was going to be,” Brown said. “In essence, it’s going to be a wash. (Their model showed an increase) without caps. We have caps on everything except for hotel, lodging and retail.”

“Obviously we have time to handle this situation,” Townsend said, asking City Attorney Rainer Cotter for options.

Brown said that the deadline for making a decision was Dec. 1 because that is when business license renewal forms are being printed. “By law, we have to send (businesses) a paper copy. They have to be postdated by Dec. 31.”

“So would your recommendation, at this point, be to keep with our current business license fee structure?” Townsend asked Brown.

“Yes and repeal the 12-04-18b Ordinance too,” Brown said about the ordinance which is similar to Ordinance 11-20-18, the first business license ordinance introduced. “So we can do what’s right by constituents in saying it’s going to be fair, balanced and increase revenues, because right now we are going to lose $200,000 by implementing that ordinance,” Brown replied. “That’s my recommendation.”

The next meeting of the Enterprise City Council is Sept. 3 in Enterprise City Hall. A work session begins at 5 p.m. in the mayor’s conference room. A voting meeting begins at 6 p.m. Both meetings are open to the public.

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