Commercial Property Registration
Over my strong objections and dissenting vote, the Council has voted to put in place the Commercial Property Registration program and associated fee that many, many Second Ward business owners have contacted me to oppose.
This finally passed the Council, after kicking around in committee for months, in large part because Mayor Rybak proposed using the revenue it's expected tol raise from businesses – approximately $950,000 every year – to prevent laying off about 21 firefighters.
I have opposed this program since it first came to the Council, for a number of reasons:
- No one has been able to make a convincing case that this program is necessary to prevent fires. This makes it very clear that the program is being put in place simply to fill an existing budget hole, and I do not believe this is responsible or fair.
- I am opposed to the increasing reliance of government on fees and fines for our revenue, rather than relying on progressive taxation. These are the sorts of gimmicks that Governor Pawlenty has used to (temporarily) balance the State's budget, and I'm disappointed to see Minneapolis give him political cover this way.
- The fee structure passed by the Council puts a much, much larger burden on small businesses than large ones. In fact, the smallest building owners will pay almost 40 times as much per square foot as the largest building owners. This is simply a new, regressive tax that falls on those who can least afford it: our struggling small businesses.
- Other cities' experience with similar programs has not always been good. Portland, for instance, has scaled back a similar program after the fees imposed raised only 36% of its cost (they had expected 50% cost recovery).
- It will be very hard to measure the effectiveness of this program, because we will have to prove a negative: fires didn't occur because this program was in place. This is basically impossible.
- As mentioned in the Star Tribune article yesterday, not all businesses will receive the same level of service under this program. Folks in areas with lots of small businesses - like Seward, the West Bank, the University area and on Lake Street, all represented in the Second Ward - will be inspected less frequently.
- Some of my colleagues talked about it being reasonable for businesses to be charged $65 for an inspection. Plumbers, for instance, charge $70 just to come over! Unfortunately, that's not the way the program works. Rather, the business will pay $65 every year for an inspection that may occur every five years - if not longer - making it a $325 visit from a Fire Captain. And again, those in dense small business nodes will pay more per inspection than others, just due to their location.
I am extremely disappointed that this passed, and I apologize to Second Ward businesses for being unable to block it. I thank Council Members Gary Schiff and Sandy Colvin Roy for joining me in voting no.