The Aiken City Council admitted that some businesses were asked to show evidence of their gross income in the determination of their license fees, while other businesses were not. (March 28, 2011 / WRDW-TV)
News 12 at 11 o'clock / Monday, March 28, 2011
AIKEN, S.C. -- Since 2002, small businesses in Aiken have had to show gross receipts in order to figure out the fee to renew their licenses, but big businesses such as Walmart haven't.
The Aiken City Council discussed the issue last week for more than four hours, and Monday for more than two. Tonight they finally agreed on a resolution to end the unequal treatment.
"Basically what they decided here was fair and equitable treatment," small business owner Deedee Vaughters said. "It's a step in the right direction. Does it fully solve the problem? No way."
"They don't really want to talk about that, but we're being discriminated against," said small business owner Debbie Nix. "And there comes a time when you have to stand up and say 'No, this is wrong.'"
Councilman Dick Dewar admits it wasn't fair that the local small businesses had to show their gross receipts year after year.
"It was unfair treatment," he admitted. "Some businesses had to submit their tax forms and some did not."
He said part of the problem lay in whether you were in the city or not and what you were paying a license fee on.
Some small business owners wanted an ordinance, not a resolution.
"You know what I'm after," Vaughters said. "I want some protection that it has to be made public with a vote that has to go to the city council to change the policy."
The back and forth discussion on that proposal went on for an hour.
There was also an hour-long discussion between Nix and the council about her being reimbursed by the city for informing businesses that there was a meeting discussing the issue the week prior.
This all created speculation that the city of Aiken doesn't like small businesses.
"I'm tired of this speculation here," City Councilwoman Lessie Price said. "My vote is that we approve this vote tonight. Schedule the first reading at the next meeting and then the second reading two meetings after that so that we can stop giving doubt to the citizens that there is something to be feared by the city of Aiken."
In the end, that's what the council voted on and passed unanimously.
"I think that they're clueless," Nix said about the city council. "I think that they don't understand what small business really is."
"For the record. I like small business," Mayor Fred Cavanaugh stressed to the audience. "I support small business."
City Manager Richard Pearce shared his feelings and stressed it many times throughout the meeting as well.
Some small business owners say this is only the start of making things better.
"There's still a lot of hurt and certainly there's a lot of trust that's been broken along the way," Vaughters said.
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