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Editorial: Citrus Heights is a business-friendly city; but it could do better

Citrus Heights has striven to be a business-friendly city ever since it first incorporated in 1997. Even the incorporation of the city 20 years ago happened largely because of the work of local business owners who believed a more business-friendly climate could be accomplished with cityhood, rather than being controlled by a more distant and large county.

History has shown they were right. In numerous interviews for business-related stories over the past few years, local business owners have repeatedly told The Sentinel that city staff have been accommodating and helpful, with notable efforts including offering matching funds for signage improvements to small businesses, dropping some regulatory hurdles for craft breweries, and conducting yearly business walks with the Chamber of Commerce to gain feedback from local business owners.

Additionally, Citrus Heights does not tack on an extra city business tax on gross profits, like the City of Sacramento and some other cities do.

But more could be done. One simple improvement that could be quickly implemented would be streamlining the business licensing process.

Although solar energy permits and pet licensing in Citrus Heights can be done entirely online, payment for business licenses currently can’t be made online and business license applications also can’t be submitted online. Payment can only be made by putting a check in the mail or by physically dropping it off in-person at city hall. No credit card option, no phone payments, no online application process.

From April: Citrus Heights launches new online program to ‘make pet licensing easy’

While it’s a seemingly simple and almost trivial issue to mail in a check versus apply and pay online — with over 2,800 businesses licensed in Citrus Heights, each of which must renew their license annually, that’s a lot of paperwork, a lot of unnecessary printing and postage, and a lot of lost time.

By contrast, the City of Elk Grove has a nearly entirely automated online business licensing system, which reduces staff time, improves turnaround time, saves paper, cuts license costs, and makes complying with licensing requirements easy for business owners. (Compliance is a real issue faced in Citrus Heights, with the city’s finance division previously stating that a good number of established businesses don’t bother acquiring licenses — including at least one restaurant on Auburn Boulevard that didn’t apply for a license even months after opening.)

In a 10-minute visit to Elk Grove’s website, most business owners will find themselves with a print-from-home temporary license in hand, after applying and paying online. Elk Grove also passes the cost-savings on to the business owner with a nominal $13 licensing fee, rather than the $50 annual licensing fee and additional $25 processing fee paid by new businesses in Citrus Heights.

It’s also worth noting that the City of Lafayette, located in the Bay Area, has never required licensing since incorporating in 1968 and says on its website that “Businesses are free to operate without a business license or registration from the City.” But while some question whether licensing of most businesses is even necessary, if a city opts to require a license, it only makes sense that doing so should be as streamlined and easy as possible.

Related: Citrus Heights seeks to attract craft breweries; drops permit req

Streamlined licensing would be a win-win, with the city saving staff time and likely receiving better compliance from businesses, and business owners saving both time and money.

Citrus Heights recently launched its streamlined licensing program for cats and dogs, with easy online application and payment options. Don’t tax-paying business owners, deserve at least the same, if not better?

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