Bluffton caps most business fees at $50,000

August 10, 2010 

  • Town Council voted to table a recommendation that would extend the jurisdiction of the Southern Corridor Review Board into the town of Bluffton. The board, made up of members appointed by Beaufort County, Bluffton and Hilton Head Island, reviews design and aesthetic components of development plans along major roadways. Council members expressed reservations about ceding such authority to an independent body. The proposal will now be reviewed by the town's planning commission.

Bluffton businesses will pay fees based on revenue of no more than $25 million after town council voted Tuesday night to amend the town's business license fee ordinance.

The cap means most businesses will pay no more than $50,000 in fees annually.

The approved ordinance also gives tax breaks, good for three years, to new high-tech or research-based companies that relocate to Bluffton.

"It's a positive step that will allow us to get that type of industry here," Councilman Fred Hamilton said.

The ordinance comes in the wake of threats made by CareCore National, a health-plan consulting firm, to relocate 120 jobs to Colorado Springs, Colo., if their fee burden was not reduced.

No CareCore representative attended the meeting. CareCore CEO Don Ryan could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

However, Ryan said recently the cap would lock in the fee amount the company paid in 2009. He has said that without the cap, the company stands to pay about $120,000 in fees this fiscal year.

In other action, council discussed a proposal by Bluffton Police Chief David McAllister to ban the sale and consumption of alcohol between 2 and 6 a.m.

McAllister said Bluffton police officers respond to 55 percent of incidents at bars after 1 a.m.

He added that the tipping point for the proposal was a recent incident in which a patron left a bar at 4 a.m. and caused property damage to several other nearby businesses.

McAllister's proposal met with resistance from some council members.

Councilman Mike Raymond said it would punish law-abiding professionals who keep irregular weekday hours and frequent bars at the end of their shifts.

He called the 2 a.m. hour arbitrary and said the change might only shift the time when disorderly behavior occurs. He cited the town of Hilton Head Island's ongoing struggle to settle on a time for last call.

Councilman Hamilton, meanwhile, said the proposal could also negatively impact local commerce at a time when economic activity needs to be encouraged.

John Vann, general manager of Wild Wings Cafe on U.S. 278, said his establishment closes at 2 a.m. seven days a week and would likely be unaffected by the new ordinance.

"We have everyone out the door by 2 a.m. anyway," he said. "My pop always said, 'Nothing good happens after 2.' "

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