Entrepreneurs will be able to get a license to operate a new business in Kennewick at the same time they get their state license.
Kennewick is poised to participate in the state Department of Revenue’s master licensing program as soon as April 17, the Kennewick City Council was told Tuesday.
The goal is to create a one-stop shop for businesses and save the city time and money.
Business owners will be able to renew city business licenses online and pay business licensing fees using electronic checks through the state program, said Evelyn Lusignan, city customer service manager.
The program allows businesses to get their state business license and endorsements to cover city business licenses.
The city has been on the waiting list for the state program for some time. It’s used by 65 cities, including Richland, West Richland, Prosser and Spokane.
In addition to making the licensing process easier and more convenient for businesses, city officials hope it will help educate businesses about city requirements sooner.
For example, sometimes businesses can’t open in the location the owner has chosen based on city zoning, Lusignan said.
City staff still will oversee city business licenses and will have the ability to approve and deny licenses, Lusignan said.
The city has about 4,500 active business licenses and tends to issue about 660 new ones each year, she said.
Kennewick will transfer the issuance and renewal of basic business licenses to the state agency, Lusignan said. That makes up about 97 percent of the city licenses.
The city still will directly issue and renew regulatory business licenses, which amount to about 120. Those licenses include adult concessions, businesses that serve liquor and offer entertainment, alarm dealers and installers, second-hand dealers, and taxis and other vehicles for hire. The city also still will control solicitor permits and special event licenses.
Each of the regulatory business licenses has special requirements. For example, background checks must be done on solicitors and chauffeurs before the city can issue licenses for those business activities, Lusignan said.
Still, transferring the bulk of the licenses over to the state program will allow city staff to do more to make sure businesses are complying with the city business license requirement, Lusignan said.
Some business owners do not realize they need a city business license in addition to the state’s, Lusignan said.
City staff don’t have time to hunt for businesses who operate without a city license. Once the city switches to using the state program, the city will receive reports from the state that will help city staff find those businesses, she said.
When Spokane switched over to the master licensing program, city staff found several thousand businesses which had failed to get a city business license, said Dan Legard, city finance manager.
That, of course, was in a larger city, he pointed out. But officials do expect to find some businesses who lack city licenses, although how many that will be is difficult to know.
Kennewick businesses already have renewed their city business licenses for this year and won’t notice a change until next year. The business licenses expire Jan. 31 and must be renewed by March 1 to avoid paying a penalty, Lusignan said.
Next year, Kennewick businesses will renew their city license with the state. The Department of Revenue’s Business Licensing Service will contact businesses in January 2016.
The master licensing program won’t cost Kennewick businesses any more than what they already pay. The city’s licensing fees and the state’s processing fee will not change.
The city’s basic business license fees include a $55 base fee and an additional $5 fee per employee, Lusignan said.
The fees vary for the regulatory licenses the city will continue to directly issue, she said.
The council will need to make some housekeeping changes to city code so the city can use the master licensing program, Lusignan said.
Among the changes would be making the threshold for when a business needs a city business license the same as when a state one is needed, she said. The state threshold is $12,000 annual gross income.
Fewer than 20 businesses who have city licenses would no longer need them under the master licensing program with the state based on that change, she said.
The changes are expected to be considered at the April 14 council meeting.