Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz on Friday spoke to members of the county's House delegation about three bills—two of which would raise fees on certain businesses and liquor license holders.
Most of the fees have not been touched since they were instituted by the General Assembly in the 1940s and 1950s. Some date back to 1920 and 1858. Kamenetz's proposed fee hikes would bring in $2.1 million in new revenue to the county.
But Jack Milani, owner of Monahan's Pub in Gwynn Oak and co-chairman of the state Licensed Beverage Association's legislative committee, said increases to liquor license holders would hurt businesses already struggling through a tough economy.
"If you have that kind of increase to the small guy, that would be devastating," Milani said.
Milani said his members are holding on but no one sees a return to profits of three years ago, even though the economy appears to be turning around.
"I don't know if we're ever fully going to get back to those days when people went to lunch and dinner the way they used to," Milani said. "We're going to have to get used to a new normal."
But times have been tough for the county, too.
The state has cut $250 million in highway user money that should have come to Baltimore County for needed roads projects. Kamenetz said he now has to replace the funds with county money.
Additionally, county revenues fell short by nearly $132 million. This year, county revenues are on pace to fall nearly $40 million short of projections.
"We just want some relief here," Kamenetz told the legislators.
"It's not an easy request for any county to come to the delegation and ask them to raise fees," he said. "We're only doing it now because we're looking for funding opportunities to offset cuts."
Currently, the county collects about $1.1 million annually through business fees. If the proposed increases are enacted, the county would collect $2.3 million from a variety of businesses—chain stores, cigarette vendors, dry cleaning and laundry services, construction firms and garages, and retailers.
Increases to fees on liquor license holders—which have not been raised in nearly 70 years—would increase annual revenues from $700,000 to nearly $1.6 million.
Combined, the hikes in business and liquor license fees would give the county $2.1 million in new revenue.
Kamenetz told members of the House delegation that it costs $700,000 to run the county Board of Liquor License Commissioners and that fees from licenses fall $200,000 short of covering costs.
The county executive said that to save money he has combined the positions of chief administrator and the head of inspections into one job. He also froze hiring for one vacant liquor inspector—leaving 13 others filled.
"We're trying to figure out ways we can recover our costs in a prudent way," Kamenetz said. "I think (increasing fees) once every 90 years is fair."
Milani said his association wants to discuss the fee increases.
"We'd be happy to sit down and work with him to try to find a way to fund the board's operations," said Milani.
"I'm not surprised they want to raise the fees," he added. "I just think it should be fair. I don't think our guys are going to think (the proposal) is fair."