Beaufort County businesses would gladly continue to pay license fees if the revenue were used to make their lives easier, several leaders told County Council during a workshop Tuesday.
The council is considering an overhaul of business-license rules or eliminating them altogether.
Representatives of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Lowcountry Economic Alliance were among those who said the money collected should be used to streamline applications.
"I don't have any businesses saying, 'Your business licenses are too high,' " alliance director Kim Statler said. However, she said many businesses in incorporated areas complain about the hassle of applying for licenses from two entities: the county and a municipality.
Current rules require businesses operating in unincorporated parts of the county to obtain a license and pay annual fees. The amount of the fee depends on the type of business and its estimated annual gross receipts. Businesses operating in Port Royal, Bluffton, Beaufort and on Hilton Head Island are subject to municipal license requirements, which have separate fees and application processes.
The county could streamline the process by creating a one-stop, online shop that allowed businesses to keep track of their licenses and calculate what they owe, according to Blakely Williams, president of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The system could be created and maintained with business-license revenue, she added.
That idea was floated several years ago but has regained momentum recently, according to Councilman Jerry Stewart, who arranged Tuesday's workshop. The council's governmental committee is expected to discuss that idea in more detail at its next meeting later this month, he added.
The county already collects taxes for itself, the municipalities and the school district through a partnership to consolidate and simplify the tax-paying process, Stewart said. County Council could work with the municipalities to mirror that partnership for the one-stop shop, he said.
The council hopes to decide what to do about licensing as it makes out its budget this spring. It has made that task one of its top priorities this year.
More than 5,300 businesses in the county obtained licenses last year, and the county collected more than $1.55 million in fees, according to Edra Stephens, county director of business licensing. The county expects to collect about $1.4 million in fees this year, she has said.
Those fees go to the county's general fund, except for about $50,000 a year that pays for running the licensing office, county financial officer Alicia Holland has said.
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.