Archive for Tuesday, October 31, 2000

County balks at closures

Commissioners want to fine, not shut down, unregistered shops

October 31, 2000


Less than a week after approval of their new rural home-based business resolution, Douglas County commissioners Monday decided they want to take some of the punch out of it.

Commissioners want to eliminate the part of the rule that would allow them to shut down "transitional businesses" that have not registered with the county before the Jan. 31, 2001, deadline. The affected rural businesses do not meet current zoning codes and have been given five years to comply or phase out.

"I think it's reality we're going to run into someone out there (who doesn't register), and I don't want to close the door the next day," Commissioner Charles Jones said.

Instead, he suggested imposing a fine of $1,000 or higher, plus any back fees, for transitional businesses who fail to register.

Smaller business would be charged a $200 fine plus back fees for not registering, according to a proposal by Keith Dabney, the county's director of zoning and codes. The smaller fine would apply to businesses run out of a rural home or a small auxiliary building at someone's home, such as a welding shop or an artist's studio.

Commission Chairman Tom Taul said he wanted more time to think about Jones' idea. He said he thought some rural business owners would drag their feet on paying the fees and the county still would have to take them to court.

Linda Finger, director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department, objected to the $1,000 fine. She said she thought it would be more advantageous for some larger businesses to pay the fine than to close.

Finger suggested commissioners talk with county counselor Evan Ice about the issue before they take any action.

To help enforce the new rules, Dabney has requested hiring an additional inspector for an estimated $30,000 salary, and a clerical employee, who would receive about $22,000 a year.

When business owners start registering, Dabney said, he expects the workload to be more than his current staff of two inspectors and a secretary can handle.

"We won't have anyone sitting around twiddling their thumbs," he said.

Commissioners questioned the need for permanent staff and wondered if they could hire someone for about six months to handle home occupations.

"In government, once you add someone, it's almost impossible to eliminate them," Commissioner Dean Nieder said.

Commissioners will discuss the registration fees and additional staff request again Nov. 13.

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