Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Biz Registry Doesn't Register

A business registry proposal drew criticism from merchants and City Council members alike Monday (Nov. 20, 2006).

Jacques Howard, assistant director for Community Development, told the council the program was intended to get a profile of all city businesses and to reduce the presence of unlicensed businesses. But officials and merchants said the city already conducts fire and health inspections and merchants are also required to register with the state.

Howard said the new program would involve an intense door-to-door scrutiny of businesses by a task force from Inspections. A fee would be waived for businesses that currently receive fire and health inspections, he said.

Council members struggled with the concept.

“Is this cost-efficient for the city of Plainfield?” Councilman Harold Gibson asked.

Councilman Don Davis said the city couldn’t enforce it, so why do it.

“I am concerned about this because we present ourselves as very business-friendly,” Councilman Rashid Burney said, adding he wanted to hear from the merchants.

Councilman Cory Storch said he is in favor of having a database of businesses integrated with health and fire, but he said, “I’m just not convinced that this ordinance will get us there.”

Storch said the city first needs to get its technology plan in place.

Later in public comment, Special Improvement District president Lisa Cohen said she would like to see a business roundtable for more input. Cohen, whose family owns Suburban Jewelers, said the registration plan seemed directed at “brick and mortar” businesses and did not address home-based businesses.

Cohen said she is a certified appraiser, but her credentials come from a professional organization, not from the state. She questioned how standards could be set for various kinds of businesses.

After Storch said, “I thought I heard the business community was consulted on this,” Cohen said both the Special Improvement District and the Chamber of Commerce voted against it, because they didn’t know what the true intent was.

The city has proposed a business registry before, but it failed due to similar concerns about costs, implementation, enforcement and the need for ongoing updates. In its quarterly magazine, the SID publishes a directory of businesses by category. The previous administration of Mayor Albert T. McWilliams also developed brochures on specific types of businesses, such as restaurants and “home arts.”

Another past concern has been improving the mix of stores, perhaps by limiting dollar stores, nail salons or other proliferating businesses. But no one ever figured out how the city could regulate who comes to Plainfield to do business.

--Bernice Paglia


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