AYER -- Selectmen continued discussion of town business certificates, this time with Town Clerk John Canney. The issue is determining whose responsibility it is to administer renewal notices and keep track of their status.
"I have talked to Mr. Canney at length about the business certificates," Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand said. "I talked to (David Maher, director of the Department of Economic and Community Development) first, and we have proposed to the selectmen a plan with respect to the business certificates in that the Department of Economic and Community Development would keep and update the list and issue the letter and subsequent letters through the offices to the businesses. What they do will also be in electronic form through the IT Department and that information would be shared with the town clerk."
Currently, business licenses are $25 for four years but there are about 40 percent of businesses in Ayer that do not hold an up-to-date business license. There is a fine for not having one, which selectmen worry is not being collected.
Selectman Chris Hillman believes that $25 is too low a price for a license in the first place.
"I think the certificate should stay valid for four years, but I think $25 is not even worth it," he said. "Twenty-five dollars is just not enough for four years."
Selectman Gary Luca asked Canney what the town does if a business does not come in for a license renewal.
"That's a very fair question and that brings up two issues," Canney said. "One is the issue of liability and one is the issue of enforcement.
"Right now," said Canney, "the statute is written that if a person wants a business certificate they have to come to us. So what's happening, the way I see it, is the selectmen and Finance Committee want to change the dynamic of the business certificate law.
"Think about what a business certificate is," said Canney. "We're certifying the business, but yet we have no mechanism in place to make sure that business is compliant with all of the laws and regulations that might be in town. If we have no mechanism in place or no policy in place to make sure that they are complying with (building, electrical, gas, etc.) rules, then what are people going to say about the town clerk that's issuing that these businesses are compliant?
"The second thing is the issue of enforcement," said Canney. "I have no enforcement mechanism and David Maher doesn't either. Let's say we send out 100 notices and only hear back from 65. That's 35 businesses that are not compliant. How do you handle the enforcement issue for them? These are the kind of practical questions that come up, and I think going from the dynamic of them saying they have to come to us, to us going to them opens up a lot of questions."
"Let me read the simplicity of the statute because we are not certifying compliance with anything by allowing them to register in the town of Ayer," Conley said. "The statute says, very simply, 'any person conducting a business in the commonwealth under any title other than the person's real name, shall file, in the office of the clerk of every city or town where any such office may be situated, a certificate of business listing the full name and residence of the person conducting the business including street and number and title under which it is conducted.'
"That is the sole purpose of the business certificate," said Conley, "not to determine whether that business has complied with inspections... 'Such certificates shall be administered under oath by the person whose name appears on it in the presence of the city or town clerk or person designated by him in the presence of the person authorized to take oaths.' I don't know who in this town other than you that is authorized to take oaths, Mr. Canney."
Conley added that fines for not complying with the statute shall be punishable by a fee of no more than $300.
"So you are empowered to fine people because you are the person who executed, under oath, the certificate," Conley said.
"This is clearly, to me, an easy revenue source," Selectman Jim Fay said.
Conley added that every month there should be a list stating the businesses that are almost up for renewal so they can be fined if they don't comply.
"It just takes communication," Selectman Luca said. "John and David need to coordinate how they will share their information."
The selectmen discussed the possibility of Maher sending out notices for business license renewals and Canney would collect the fees and keep track of which businesses have renewed their licenses. He would then report to Maher, after a set period of time, which businesses have since renewed their licenses. Maher would be responsible for sending out a follow-up notice to businesses that have failed to renew their license.
"I think the best way to finish this discussion is to say 'to be continued,'" Conley said.
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