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Fee drops by $175 for some St. Louis business owners; not everyone got the news

(Maria Altman, St. Louis Public Radio)
A new law means a lower business license renewal for some home-based business owners. The trouble is that not everyone has been informed about it.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen passed a law last year making it easier to register a home-based business.

It also lowered the business renewal license fee, due each year on June 1, to just $25 for those home-based businesses with annual revenue under $100,000.

It had been $200.

Many business owners have no idea the fee has dropped. 

Even though the law went into effect in February, the graduated business license renewal forms the St. Louis License Collector’s office sent to many business owners in April don't include the lower fee.  There's no information about the change on the office’s website either.

"When I got the new form, I looked for that, but it was all exactly the same as previous years. There was no mention of the lower fee," said Jill Miller, who runs her small business, White Caps, Green Collars, out of her apartment.

Miller paints flat roofs white for energy efficiency. She also does some communications work for 15th Ward Alderwoman Megan Green and was aware of the new law.

She called the license collector’s office and was told she’d be sent a new form. It never arrived. So Miller went to City Hall in person.

She finally received the new form from the license collector after being sent to the city's Building Division for a copy of her home occupancy waiver.

"I hope anyone who’s paid the $200, who should have only paid $25, will get a refund," she said.

(Here's the original form Miller received.)

The forms were sent

License Collector Mavis Thompson said her office did send the new forms to those listed in their system as having a home occupancy business license.

"We have a list of all the people that were on our radar as home occupants. We sent all of those folks the home occupancy renewal form with the new procedure and fee structure," she said.

(This is the License Collector's new form.)

St. Louis Public Radio spoke to a dozen home-based business owners. Only two had received the new forms.

Thompson said the distinction is between those who have home occupancy licenses, and those who have home occupancy waivers. In order to get the license, she said business owners need to deal with multiple departments. They will need to get the home occupancy waiver from the Zoning Department, which may require going through a conditional use hearing. They also must provide their E234 tax forms from the Collector of Revenue to prove their salary falls below the threshold.

So why not include that information on the graduated business license renewal?

"If you’re a pawn shop, we send you the pawn shop renewal. If you’re a manufacturer, we send you the manufacturer renewal. If you’re a home occupant, we send you the home occupant renewal," she said.

Thompson was appointed to the position of license collector in 2013 and elected in 2014. She said her office will give refunds to those who qualify for the lower fee, as long as business owners provide the documentation.

"If some people fell through the cracks, all we can do is apologize to those people, but the masses got the correct information from the policies and procedures that we already had in place," Thompson said.

Letting business owners know

Alderwoman Green contacted the license collector’s office last week after hearing about the situation first from Miller and then from other constituents. She said the office needs to send out a new notice to business owners who may qualify or, at the very least, do a social media push.

"There are a lot of folks out there that don’t know that they could pay $25 instead of $200," Green said.

But the license collector said no one in the Board of Aldermen consulted her office before changing the law or discussed how it should be put into effect.

"The law was passed without anyone thinking of the implementation of the law," Thompson said.

Twenty-fourth Ward Alderman Scott Ogilvie sponsored the bill that made the changes. The goal, he said, was to make it easier for people to get licenses for their home-based businesses. Ogilvie said the $200 fee is steep for those who make only a few thousand dollars a year.

"The whole point was to make it less expensive to run small businesses in the city, so we certainly want people to know about and take advantage of the lower fee," he said.

As for how that’s done, he said the Board of Aldermen write most of the rules, but it’s the role of the License Collector to enforce and administer those that deal with business licensing and license renewal fees.

Word of mouth

Architectural historian Lynn Josse has a consulting business she runs out of her home. She said she got the same renewal form as always this spring but heard through friends that the fee was lower.

So she took a trip to the license collector’s office last week.

She was then sent to the Building Division for her home occupancy waiver and the Collector of Revenue to prove she made under $100,000 last year. In the end, she got the new form.

"I’ve had worse pains at City Hall, but it did take a while to get it done," Josse said.

While she said it seemed punitive to make her run around getting the right documents, she saved herself $175 by doing it.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.