Some Beaufort County Council members want to create a new economic-development fund with the money local companies pay each year for business licenses.
On Tuesday, the council's Governmental Committee proposed an ordinance that would direct about half of the county's business-license fees toward economic development. The rest would continue to go into the general fund. The proposal goes to the full council next month.
The county expects about 3,700 businesses to pay $1.6 million in license fees this fiscal year, which began July 1, deputy county administrator Bryan Hill said.
Last year, the county collected more than $1.55 million in business-license fees, which are based on the type of business and its estimated annual gross receipts, according to county business licensing director Edra Stephens. Except for the $50,000 cost of running the license office, all of that money now goes to the general fund, she said.
The formula the committee endorsed Tuesday would include a four-year transition so the county doesn't face an immediate $750,000 drop in next year's general fund, Hill said.
The proposal would create the county's first stable funding for economic development since before the recession and could be used to fund the county's $190,000 partnership with the Lowcountry Economic Alliance, Councilman Jerry Stewart said. The alliance is a nonprofit organization that tries to recruit businesses to the area.
The fund also could be used to buy land and offer incentives to retain and attract businesses, Stewart said.
"The key is to look at it as a fund that's going to grow, and you'll have a critical mass of dollars that you can do something significant with when the time comes," he said.
The new fund could help finance the county's long-standing, yet undeveloped, proposal for an online "one-stop shop" for companies to calculate and pay all of their county and municipal business-license fees at once, according to Stewart and county administrator Gary Kubic.
Stewart, along with council members Brian Flewelling, Gerald Dawson and Laura Von Harten, voted for the proposal Tuesday.
"I don't think we've turned down an opportunity in economic development we believed in," Flewelling said. "We've always been able to find that money, either through spending through our reserve fund or tightening in our belt in other places."
Councilwoman Cynthia Bensch was the lone dissenter. She has argued against the current business-license structure, saying it is a complicated, expensive burden on small businesses. She wants it replaced with a nominal fee of about $15, to register businesses to verify they are legitimate.
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.