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Whitefish moves to business registration program

by HEIDI DESCH
Daily Inter Lake | November 19, 2023 12:00 AM

Following a change in state law, Whitefish City Council on Monday will vote on changing its business licensing provision into a business registration program.

Senate Bill 262 restricts how cities deal with businesses — it prohibits “additional licensing when the state is the original issuer of the license.” Thus, the city will clarify that its business registration program is to promote public health and safety, City Manager Dana Smith noted in her memo to Council. 

City Council meets at 7:10 p.m. at City Hall, 418 E. Second St.

The changes include requiring contractors to show proof of general liability insurance of at least $300,000 and that all businesses with a physical location be subject to fire safety inspections. 

Licensed professionals such as physicians, attorneys, accountants and nail technicians would be exempt from the registration. 

A provision requiring lodging facilities to maintain a guest registration list and have it in public view is being removed. 

Since it will become a business registration program, the section in the ordinance revoking a business license has been removed. Resort tax, zoning requirements and provisions in the regulations will provide the means of enforcement through fines and penalties, Smith noted. 

Council is expected in December to consider approving a resolution adopting fees for the business registration program. Smith said those fees will likely remain the same as currently set.

Also, a part of the updates is registration for short-term rentals, those with stays of less than 30 days that are rented to transient guests or tourists. 

In a related item on short-term rentals, the city is expected to proceed with hiring a short-term rental code enforcement position approved in the current budget. Smith said hiring for the position was delayed until the completion of the state legislative session specifically SB 262 because business registration fees will be used to fund the position.

COUNCIL WILL also consider approving a rating panel and selection committee for four different planning efforts with the Public Works Department. 

The city was awarded a Safe Streets for All Grant to complete a Comprehensive Safety Action Plan, which will allow for future construction grants. Projects would include street design changes for safety and traffic improvements. The city has budgeted $200,000 for the plan. 

A Water System Master Plan is one of the planning efforts and is expected to provide an updated, comprehensive understanding of the city’s water system and a roadmap to meet future needs. A Sewer Master Plan would identify capital improvement projects and efforts required to meet the city’s level of service goals and manage projected growth. The city has budgeted $200,000 for the water and sewer plans. 

The city obtained a grant through the Railroad Crossing Elimination Program which will provide funding to examine the existing railroad crossings in Whitefish and propose projects to improve safety, including the State Park Road and Birch Point Drive crossings. The budget for the plan is $500,000. 

During a work session at 6:30 p.m., Council will discuss providing an employee rate for the city’s Parks and Recreation summer day camp and after-school programs. 

The programs provided scholarships for those who qualify based on income guidelines. Last summer scholarships were awarded to four families and five more families applied but were not awarded scholarships due to limited funds. City employees comprised most of the families who did not get scholarships. 

Parks and Recreation staff is recommending Council consider one of three options for city employees. 

First, to provide a scholarship rate for city employees that would not exceed 10% of their annual income. This is estimated to cost the city $9,720 per year. 

The second option would be a 50% rate of the current resident fee. 

Third, would be to provide a zero-cost rate for city employees for the program. This is expected to have a financial impact of about $13,000 for every 10 children of employees in the program. 

Features Editor Heidi Desch may be reached at 758-4421 or hdesch@dailyinterlake.com.