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License to fight

An outcry from out-of-town businesses hit with a licensing fee by the city of Medford has attracted the attention of at least one member of the City Council.

Councilman Bob Strosser said he's heard a number of complaints and is ready to consider revising the ordinance.

"I'm obviously open to changes in the code," said Strosser.

A push by the city's Finance Department has raised the ire of business people who are based elsewhere but asked to buy a Medford business license if they enter the city limits during the course of their business.

Some of those who have been hit with the annual $81 fee plan to take their case to the City Council today and ask for a revision of the ordinance.

Among them is Rob Werfel, a commercial and portrait photographer who works from his home in Ashland. He said enforcement seems hit-and-miss, and it's unfair that he must pay the same amount a business with a storefront pays when he only has a handful of jobs in Medford.

Strosser said he'd prefer a different standard be used to determine who must buy a license, perhaps by requiring it only of those who have a physical presence in the city.

City Finance Director Alison Chan said the city hasn't changed its code, but has stepped up enforcement and is doing more active investigations in pursuit of those businesses it believes should pay the fee.

Chan said her staff formerly scanned only Yellow Pages and classified ads, but recently began looking through various print media to spot names of people who may be doing business in Medford without a license.

Business licenses generate about $500,000 annually for the city.

Other Rogue Valley cities, including Jacksonville, Ashland and Eagle Point, have similar requirements, but are less apt to actively enforce them.

There are exemptions to the fee requirement, including for real estate and insurance sales people. Chan said a group of artists asked the council to be added to the list about a year ago, but the council denied the request. She said the purpose of the fee is not just to generate revenue, but to inspect and monitor businesses like pawn shops and taxicab services, as well as home businesses that have the potential of impacting neighbors.

"It's how we know who's where," she said.

Helena Darling, who owns a catering business in Ashland, said paying a licensing fee in Ashland makes sense to her because the city inspects her business. While she pays the annual fee in Medford so she can provide catering services within the city limits, she said it doesn't make much sense to her.

"Medford would never come in and inspect my business or offer me any service," she said. "I have no objection to it if there is a clear benefit to a business."

Ashland photographer Christopher Briscoe, who does not have a business license in Medford, said there are numerous cities in the country in which he does business and notes he has a Web page advertisement that is seen around the globe. If all these cities pursued a similar law, he said, he would be faced with hundreds of fees.

"Laws are meant to be based on common sense and what is reasonable," he said. "This law seems to address neither."

Steve Gilmore, vice president of governmental affairs for the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County, said the chamber would support a lower charge for small businesses as long as the city didn't tack on an increase for larger businesses to make up the revenue difference. He said the ordinance is broadly written.

"If you're a traveling salesperson and you're doing business in 17 states, how is that manageable?" he asked.

He said the chamber hopes to see a new proposal that's equitable.

"We want to be a pro-business community," he said.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail mlanders@mailtribune.com.

The notable exemptions

Anyone who performs a service or business inside the city of Medford must purchase an annual $81 business license, with the following exemptions:

Nonprofit organizations.

Government agencies.

Real estate agents (the office of the agent, not the individual agent, must pay the fee).

Public utility businesses.

Trucking industry.

Insurance agents.

Alcoholic liquor and beverage distributors.

Beggars.

Child-care facilities.

Foster homes.

Many of the exemptions are mandated by the state or federal government.

Ashland photographer Christopher Briscoe takes a portrait of the Heiner family of Ashland Wednesday afternoon in his studio. Briscoe is among those objecting to the city of Medford’s demand that out-of-town business people buy business licenses if they enter the city limits. - Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell