County may exempt farmers, fishermen from businesses licenses

cconley@islandpacket.comMay 22, 2013 

Beaufort County is considering a proposal to exempt most farmers, fishermen and timber harvesters from business-licensing requirements.

The plan, still being crafted by county staff, aims to prop up the county's agriculture and mariculture industries, according to County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville.

"The things that attracted people to this county in the first place wasn't gated communities, it was our culture," said Sommerville, who fished for shrimp for nearly 15 years.

"The comprehensive plan encourages (farming and fishing), and the way to do it is not to require them to get a business license, but to do everything we can do to help them and nurture them," he continued.

Beaufort County requires all businesses that operate in the unincorporated areas to obtain an annual business license. Fees vary depending on the type of business and its gross receipts in a given year.

The county collected $1.72 million in the fees during fiscal year 2012 and has collected about $906,000 during the 2013 fiscal year, which ends June 30, according to county data. Fees for this year are due by May 31.

County attorney Josh Gruber said that eight of the largest counties in the state have business license requirements, including Charleston and Horry counties. Only three of those eight counties have exemptions for agriculture.

However, Sommerville said during the Finance Committee meeting May 6 that most Georgia counties, including Chatham and others near the South Carolina border, have some kind of agricultural exemptions.

Gruber said it's too soon to know which businesses would be exempt, but he said it likely would be narrowly focused to include only those that grow crops, harvest fish or raise timber.

"We are wanting to make sure the language of the exemption is narrowly tailored so that we exempt those businesses that county council wants to exclude, but we don't somehow inadvertently exclude another business the county did not intend to exclude," Gruber said.

In the past, council has proposed reducing business license fees to as little as $10 a year, according to county administrator Gary Kubic.

It's not clear if this discussion will lead to other business license changes, but at least one council member favors eliminating the requirement altogether.

"You just get to the point where, you wonder why half the country is on welfare. Hello?" Councilwoman Cynthia Bensch said at the May 6 meeting after citing a litany of rules and regulations business owners must follow.

"I think we need to consider who really needs to get a business license in this county, or even in the state of South Carolina, but in particular in this county," she continued.

Gruber said there is no timeline associated with the proposed changes, but that he hopes to bring the measure back before the Finance Committee soon.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.

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