Montgomery County to Consider Lower, Flat Fee for Retailers

    Montgomery County may slash an annual inventory fee for businesses in an effort to help hard-hit retailers and restaurateurs in the midst of the pandemic.

    County Council Members Andrew Friedson (D) and Evan Glass (D) introduced a bill Tuesday that would establish a uniform trader’s license fee of $15 in the county. The license fee, now based on the average value of a business’s inventory, can cost up to $800.

    Friedson said the average business usually pays between $150 and $350 for the fee. Establishing a uniform $15 fee won’t just save struggling businesses a few hundred dollars, he said, but will also relieve them of the “administrative burden” of figuring out the value of their inventory.

    “This amount isn’t going to save a business on the precipice of closing, but it is a step in the right direction toward supporting small businesses that are desperately in need of assistance,” Glass said.

    Setting a uniform fee was made possible by a change to Maryland law in 2019, which allowed local governments to reset the fee. That legislation, sponsored by Montgomery County Democrats Sen. Benjamin F. Kramer and Del. Alfred C. Carr Jr., became law before the pandemic began, Glass noted.

    “While they passed the legislation last year, before we could ever imagine the health and economic situation we are currently in, this is an example of the state and county working together to help those in need during this unprecedented crisis,” Glass said.

    Montgomery lawmakers believe their legislation could serve as a model for other jurisdictions in the state.

    County Council President Sidney Katz (D), a former small business owner, said slashing the fee to $15 is the right move. He said requiring businesses to pay a fee based on their inventory, which will in turn generate sales tax revenue, was “never logical” to him.

    Katz said the small money-saving gesture could serve to show local businesses that county council members are supporting them during the pandemic. To make the change, the County Council would have to pass the measure and County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) would have to sign it by Oct. 1, which is the state deadline for establishing the uniform fee.

    Bennett Leckrone
    Leckrone is a December 2019 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. He has interned at The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Columbus Dispatch, PennLive.com, The Dayton Daily News and The Troy Daily News. Leckrone is a Report for America corps member.