YORK -- Businesses may soon have to pay more to operate in York.
In a special meeting last week, the York City Council voted to increase the city's business rates to match Fort Mill.
The city has seven classifications for businesses. Based on their class, the businesses must pay a minimum annual fee ranging from $25 to $55. For every thousand they make above $2,000, they are currently charged anywhere between $.70 and $1 depending on class. They will now be charged between $1 and $1.30.
Ironically, the decision to raise the fees actually resulted from a request that they be lowered.
On April 10, Mike Diamond, president of Republic Textile Equipment of South Carolina, wrote to Interim City Manager Charles Helms saying he is tired of paying York's business license fees. The letter was made public at a York Council meeting.
"We think that the formula being used to calculate ones business license is unjust and quite unfair. We find that this tax has no reflection to the profit or loss of our company," he wrote. "Last year alone, our small company lost $450,000.00; so why should we pay you $8,000 for a business license."
Attempts to reach Diamond for comments were unsuccessful.
In another letter dated April 18, he said the fee is unfair because it's based on the gross sale rather than the net profit of a business.
But writing letters to the city didn't do much good.
After receiving his letter, city staff looked at York's fees and discovered they were lower than surrounding municipalities and had only been increased once in the last 33 years. Instead of lowering taxes, the town opted instead to increase them to the same as Fort Mill's in an effort to generate about $100,000 more a year.
"I feel this would be a good place that we could bring some revenues," Helms told the council.
The council voted unanimously to approve first reading of the increase.
"As the city manager pointed out, our business license has been static," said Mayor Eddie Lee. "(The fees are) even typed on an old-fashioned typewriter. They need to be adjusted."
But Mark Boley, who will begin his term as councilman for District 6 in July, says he will oppose the increase when it comes up for second reading in August.
"Some people look at businesses in town as an endless piggy bank that they can continue to tap," he said. "I don't feel that way."
Many businesses are struggling and this is a poor time to raise fees, Boley said.
"Yes, we are lower than the other towns around us, but I look at it as an advantage to York to attract new business," he said. "Nothing says we have to be just like the Joneses in regards to the fees that they charge."
Ronnie Bailes, owner of The Men's Shop on Congress Street, said he wasn't aware the city was considering raising the fee.
"This is not a great time to be raising it, with the economy the way it is," he said, adding that no time is really ideal.
If the fees are increased, it's something businesses will just have to deal with, he said.
"It's something we have to pay every year," he said. "It's a part of business."
Jim Dickerson, president of the Downtown Business Association, said they will discuss the proposed increase at their July meeting.
Council meetings are held the first Tuesday of the month at City Hall.