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SC businesses to no longer face 'wild wild West' in paying local licensing fees to operate

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The South Carolina Statehouse. File/John A. Carlos II/Special to The Post and Courier

COLUMBIA — David Clark's pest control business needs 66 business licenses to operate across South Carolina, a perennial hassle that requires filling out separate forms, calculating the varying rates, and paying at different times throughout the year. 

"It’s ridiculous," said Clark, second-generation owner of Clark's Termite and Pest Control, which has offices statewide. "It's just an accounting nightmare, keeping up with all of it."

Legislation passed last week should lighten that load, though not before 2022.

The bill, expected to be signed into law Thursday, will create a state-operated website where business owners can fill out a single form and pay licensing taxes for wherever they work, consolidated into one bill due at the same time yearly. 

It simplifies a hodgepodge of taxes that 234 cities and towns — 86 percent of all municipalities — and nine counties charge on businesses that operate within their borders. The system is particularly onerous on small businesses and contractors who travel to their job sites, such as plumbers, landscapers and real estate agents.

"We have just made it easier for businesses to comply with business licensing," said Ted Pitts, CEO of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce. "There’s no more wild wild West, where every city does it their own way."

The group's been pushing for centralization for nearly a decade. North Carolina added some incentives in 2015, when it eliminated business license taxes altogether. 

Local governments' resistance to change over the years stemmed from concerns their collections would be limited. But under the compromise the Legislature approved almost unanimously — with a single "nay" in each chamber — they still set the rates.

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"This allows everybody to get on the same page," said the bill's main sponsor, Rep. Jay Jordan, R-Florence. "This creates layers of efficiency that haven’t existed."

The state's Association of Counties considers the impending law a win-win, as it makes it easier on governments to collect too. 

"Standardization will make it easier for businesses to thrive in South Carolina," director Tim Winslow said. "County officials wanted it to make the state more business-friendly. The association is extremely excited."

He also expects it to result in more of South Carolina's 46 counties creating business license fees to work in their unincorporated areas. The nine that currently levy them are a mix of rural and urban: Beaufort, Charleston, Dorchester, Horry, Jasper, Marion, Orangeburg, Richland and Sumter counties.  

Expecting the consolidation to take some time, legislators set the law's effective date at Jan. 1, 2022.

Clark said he's fine with that, knowing an end to the headache is coming. 

While any business would like to cut expenses, he said, it's not the $37,600 he pays yearly in licensing taxes that makes him mad. It's the days worth of work it takes to comply.  

"I'm a customer to them. When you make it hard for someone to do business with you, it just gets aggravating," he said. "Make it easy for me to give you the money." 

Follow Seanna Adcox on Twitter at @seannaadcox_pc.

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