Missoula City Council 

Pawn, porn, and beer

Kettlehouse Brewery owner Tim O'Leary told the Missoula City Council Monday night that he's not happy about the prospect of shelling out more money for a license to make beer in the Garden City.

"We add value to Montana products," O'Leary told the council. "This is a message that you're sending to us brewers, people who have brought jobs to Missoula."

O'Leary's testimony came just before the council voted 8-2 to increase licensing fees for businesses including breweries, wineries, secondhand stores, and porn shops. Municipal budget crunchers recommended the move to help keep Missoula's checkbook in the black. The proposal came largely in response to a study conducted by Wohlford Consulting that was released in February, in which the Sacramento-based firm evaluated how much it costs Missoula to regulate businesses versus what companies pay to obtain an operating license. The company found that licensing revenue isn't covering even the city's basic oversight expenses. In fact, Missoula is losing $110,000 annually on business licensing alone. "So it's kind of a catch-up," says Missoula Finance Director Brentt Ramharter.

"Transient vendors," or individuals who solicit merchandise or services by going door to door, and porn shops featuring "devices depicting sexual activity" will also see a hike. Pawnshops, which now pay $121 yearly, will shell out $310. All of the business-license increases will take effect July 6 and apply only to operations that bring in more than $6,000 in gross receipts annually.

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Missoula's measures to stay flush don't stop with license fee increases. The council has yet to vote on Mayor John Engen's 2012 budget, which proposes increasing property taxes by 3.6 percent next year. That pencils out to roughly $25 per year on a home worth $225,000. Engen says the hike is necessary to help keep the general fund balanced, cover increasing costs of providing health insurance to city staffers, and fulfill his commitment to give municipal employees a raise this year. "It first honors the commitment we made to our bargaining units," Engen said.

Council will likely vote on Engen's budget June 13. As for O'Leary, by Tuesday morning he'd simmered down from the council meeting the night before. He doesn't really mind paying the additional $200 licensing charge if it helps keep municipal mechanisms humming along, he says. He just wants elected representatives to understand how their actions affect homegrown enterprises like his: "We make a living as businesspeople worrying about the little things."

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