BELL — At the request of the Bell Chamber of Commerce, which wants its subsidy tripled so it can mount a promotional campaign for the city, the City Council has tentatively agreed to raise business license taxes by 18.5%.
The unanimous action, which would effectively make all business-license holders members of the Chamber of Commerce, came at a special meeting called Monday so that the new rate can go into effect in January. No one spoke against the measure. A final vote is scheduled for Monday.
There are about 1,000 businesses in Bell, but another 1,000 licenses are issued to businesses outside the city that do some business within Bell. The chamber now has 320 members.
The city has two different business-license tax schedules; they vary according to the size and type of business. Certain businesses, such as contractors, gardeners and pawnbrokers, pay a fixed tax that ranges from $10 to $300. After rounding off to the nearest dollar, such businesses would pay $2 to $56 more under the tax increase. Businesses not included in the fixed-rate schedule pay a fee based on gross receipts. The rate ranges from $50 to $2,000. The highest increase would be $370 for a company that makes $2 million or more per year.
Increase Sought in July
The chamber asked for the fee increase in July, but the council postponed a decision. However, as an interim measure, the city in September doubled the subsidy it gives the chamber from $1,000 to $2,000 a month and asked the chamber to survey its membership about the business-license tax increase.
On Dec. 2, a chamber representative reported that 29 out of 38 members who responded to the survey favored the increase. At that time, the chamber asked for $54,550, which includes the $24,000 it was receiving already. The $54,550 is almost exactly the estimated amount that the new fees would raise.
But City Administrator Byron Woosley said the chamber is not necessarily guaranteed that amount. The additional money will be put into the general fund and the council would then decide how much to allot to the chamber for services the city expects to receive.
"The whole city benefits a great deal from having a strong, viable chamber," said Mayor George Simmons, who is also a chamber board director. "It will behoove us to move in the direction of getting money to use to subsidize the chamber."
Not Budgeted for Promotion
Delores Smith, chamber president, said in an interview that the increase is necessary if the chamber is to take on more activities to promote the city and attract new business. She said the chamber's current budget does not allow it to be involved in promotional activities for the city.
"The small businessman is carrying the whole load to promote the city," Smith said. Chamber members say that many larger businesses in the city which are not members of the organization benefit from the chamber's efforts without paying for them.
"I felt the chamber in this city operated as a Salvation Army--always going around asking for money," said George Garcia, a director on the chamber board. After the meeting, he said the chamber will be "relieved of being a fund-raising organization" and can now act as a promotional entity for the city.
Smith said membership dues to the chamber would cease and an application to participate in the chamber would be included with the business license.
Huntington Park Model
The tax increase would benefit some chamber members because many businesses could end up paying less under the fee increase than they would for membership dues. Dues are $85 a year for businesses with 16 employees or less. Businesses with more than 16 employees pay $150.
Chamber Manager Nina Suess said the Bell chamber's proposal was patterned after one in Huntington Park that has worked successfully. That city passed an ordinance in January, 1978, that imposed an additional business-license tax of 25% to raise money for city publicity and promotion.
'The small businessman is carrying the whole load to promote the city'