County business license office to move later this year

Those in need of a new or renewed Pershing County business license will soon find the services they need at the Planning & Building Department rather than at the Sheriff’s Office. The transfer was recently approved by the county commission to take place later this year.

Some business owners said the planning department is more appropriate for a process hopefully unrelated to criminal activity. However, business license applicants may continue to undergo background checks conducted by the Sheriff’s Office. Applicants with felony convictions and those behind on child support payments can be denied by the sheriff’s office.

Planning & Building Department Supervisor James Evans agreed that the change would make sense to the public and that his office can handle the extra workload. Removing the process from the Sheriff’s Office will free up staff time for their many other duties, Sheriff Jerry Allen said.

“There’s been lots of people who have come in to get a building permit and they don’t have a business license,’ Evans said. “The first question is, can I get it here? I send them to the Sheriff’s Office and they say, I have to go to the Sheriff’s Office? I don’t want to go over there!”

Sheriff Allen said he normally gets an average of one new or renewal application although the number increases near the end of the fiscal year when many applications are due.

“I had one in my box Monday and I got another one today,” he said. “But, two weeks ago, I had 14 but most of those were for Burning Man, the vast majority. I believe two were local.”

County resident Ted Bendure said that eventually the application should be available online. 

“I think it’s really important to have all of this electronic. To be able to do this online, to sit at home if you can instead of running paper around and not having access on the weekends,” he said. “If you want to find out if someone has a business license, on the weekends or after hours, you have no clue. Provided you have sufficient funds such as a credit card, you could pay for it and be done with it”

Software should be available by the end of the year for the business license process after other county departments complete other software upgrades according to IT Supervisor Justin Abbott.

The owners of certain types of businesses, such as childcare facilities and gaming establishments, are required by the state to undergo background checks but the local county ordinance could be amended to exclude other businesses.

County commissioners questioned the need for background checks for “the average person doing a home business or doing whatever.” Some business may be exempt in the future.

“I’m comfortable with proceeding with the idea that we are going to move it from the Sheriff’s Department to the Planning Department knowing that we are still going to have a list of businesses that require a background check,” said Commissioner Rob McDougal.

Other business owners that may still need a background check could be blocksmiths, door-to-door salesmen and operators of storage facilities, District Attorney Bryce Shields told the board.

“It goes beyond businesses regulated by the state,” he said. “Any business where the consumer has to have trust and confidence in you, where you are storing people’s goods and valuables, you probably have to have a background check.”

Evans said the background check policy must be clear with no ambiguity or unknowns. County leaders agreed that the criteria for background checks needs to be clarified before the other changes to the county business license application process are implemented.

County leaders agreed to complete the transition sometime in the fall of 2019. Any changes to the relevant county ordinances involved will require one or more public hearings beforehand.