Both meetings were at Magnolia Hall in downtown Woodstock and focused on coming to a consensus and team building.
After a team-building exercise, City Manager Jeff Moon made a presentation of five-year major goals. The city’s goals include improving mobility for residents, expanding commerce, maintaining an effective and efficient city, keeping the downtown area as the heart of Woodstock, planning for and maintaining first-class sustainable neighborhoods and focusing on the health, development and redevelopment of commercial corridors of the city.
To kick off department reports, the mayor and council also heard from Chief Financial Officer Robert Porche about a possible change to the way the city distributes business licenses.
The change, Porche said, is a way to raise revenue without raising taxes.
The proposed change would be to switch from the number of employees to gross receipts for business license fees. Porche said the city could earn more through gross receipts as it is difficult to monitor how many employees a business truly has under the per-employee model without putting a burden on code enforcement and city staff.
“We have no way to verify it,” Porche said. “We don’t ask for W-2s. It’s just on the honor system. Gross receipts we can verify on prior year income taxes.”
Porche and Katie Colburn, a development services coordinator for the city, showed a sample of metro Atlanta cities as well as the cities in Cherokee and the county as a whole and which payment models they each use.
“Large-box retailers are paying more in cities like Milton that has gross receipts,” Porche said.
Porche said $5,500 is the highest large companies pay under the gross receipts system in other metro municipalities. One potential downside of the switch is the additional administration fee, which unincorporated Cherokee does not have.
“The question that’s posed is that if we switch to this, is it going to be a deterrent for businesses in the city of Woodstock to be on gross receipts? Would they choose to go into the county and not come into the city?” Porche said.
For comparison, Porche said a home building company based in Cobb County pays approximately $2,000 in license fees in the neighboring county, but would only pay $60 if the business moved to Woodstock.
Porche said the switch would increase business license revenues 25 percent, or $100,000.
He recommended increasing the administration fee to $50 to bring the city in line with comparable jurisdictions and increasing the professional fee to $400.
However, Porche recommended the change not impact home-based businesses or restaurants.
“Two areas we decided would probably not be a good idea to touch were home-based businesses and restaurants,” he said. “Our downtown Woodstock is home to a lot of restaurants ... they have their alcohol licenses on top of it and if we start tampering with their business licenses their margins aren’t the same as most businesses.”
Porche said the gross receipt business license model is a progressive, national trend and being the first to make the switch may drive business back into the county.
Moon said he believes gross receipts is a fairer model because the larger retailer would then pay more based on their revenues than the local mom-and-pop shops.
Council member Randy Brewer said he is concerned the move would drive businesses to open in unincorporated Cherokee, where the pay model is still per-employee.
“We’re almost giving ourselves a disadvantage, whereas we continually talk about giving ourselves an advantage for economic development,” Brewer said.
Porche agreed that may be a tipping point for businesses, but Moon added council could establish a cap to the fee that mirrors closely to other cities in the area. Porche said Canton uses the gross receipts model but Holly Springs does not.
Porche said if council does not prefer the gross receipt model, the city will need to find a way to better verify the per-employee model.
Council member Tessa Basford expressed concern the move would increase the cost of managing the program and put more burden on staff.
Though council member Chris Casdia said he worried the move would drive away companies, Mayor Donnie Henriques said he understood his concern but disagreed.
“I think right now we’re in a really enviable position because we’ve got that outlet mall coming in,” Mayor Donnie Henriques said. “It’s going to attract a lot of local businesses. We don’t have to go out and solicit as much as we have in the past. They’re going to be coming to us. They’re going to be knocking on our door.”