Commercial billing has been a debate for over two years with the city commission and local businesses in the Langdon community. Many businesses feel it’s not fair, and some feel the fees won’t make it worth working on a commercial property. What does this mean for businesses on the main drag? Will it be more common to visit people’s personal homes for services? And if so, what will Main Street look like in the next 5 years? Many of the businesses these ordinances affect, but are not limited to, are the beauty and personal care industries.

Business and property owner Lance Schill built a rental property for businesses on Main Street. Doing his research, he had Ottertail and MDU hook up 6 different meters to separate these bills accurately. He was assured with one meter he would receive one bill. His rental spaces are now filled with tenants that have pre-paid their lease. With this ordinance, Schill will receive a bill of about $68 per rented unit. With leases he agreed to, this will take about 20% of the income he hadn’t anticipated. Schill did his research and reached out to Jason Busse (water) who told him he’d never go over the minimum and to not worry about it. Reaching out to Tom Beauchamp, head of sanitation, he was told it was $5 extra per trash can that he could do, if necessary. Now, Schill will be billed these minimums per rented unit because what he was told now no longer stands true. On top of this large increase from city billing, his brand new property has tripled in property taxes. How much money is the city getting, and will this make it harder for businesses to stay open?

Bottle Barn owner Scott Anderson from Jamestown flat out thinks it’s stupid. He bought the FM Mall and runs The Bottle Barn. “They’re acting like they don’t want businesses.” There are 8 business units Anderson has already been getting charged $95/ unit. That’s $760 /month from one building. The businesses on the main floor also share a bathroom and garbage can. Anderson mentioned he will be attending the meeting Monday, June 28th at 6:00 p.m. to voice his thoughts.

Chelsea McGauvran, owner of HLC Studio, feels like it is overstepping to charge a building more than once. She thinks it should be charged by the meter.

“What would other utility companies do? Would Ottertail charge per business or per meter? I could see needing to charge each business for garbage separately as that could become costly if all of the businesses accumulated a lot of trash. Perhaps then they could offer different dumpster sizes/ prices to fit those needs. I realize the city needs that income they are making by using this method. Perhaps they can create a profit/ loss report and assess the areas that are not profiting. I think the city should do what they can to promote and support local business. More businesses per building could mean more tax dollar income.”

Michelle Anderson, owner of Infinity Nails, and Jocelyn Jennings, owner of Langdon Electrolysis Clinic, both own and operate their own businesses out of the same space. Jennings is a stay-at-home mother to her 4-month-old daughter and works 2 days per week. With this ordinance, the property owners have said the extra charges to the property owners will be passed on to the businesses to pay. Working 2 days per week, this additional bill will definitely hurt Jennings’s income. Jennings made the following comments, “For businesses in a shared space, this will be an additional cost with no added service or benefits to the user. This ordinance hurts the most vulnerable businesses in our community- those that are less established and have a lower profit margin. The reason businesses share a space in the first place is because they cannot afford to pay full rent and utilities on their own while maintaining a worthwhile profit. It will make it more challenging for those who want to start a new business and for smaller businesses to grow. Meanwhile, well established businesses that operate out of their own space will see no difference in their utility bill.

The city is also hiding behind property owners to enforce this ordinance. All utility bills will be sent to the property owners who will be the ones to absorb the cost or collect from their tenants, either as utility fees or increased rent. This model allows all responsibility to be unfairly shifted onto the property owner, as the city claims they cannot be held responsible for how individual property owners handle the issue. From the city’s current standpoint, property owners will ultimately be the ones to blame if businesses suffer from this ordinance.

If this ordinance passes, my monthly expenses will increase 50%. That is an incredible amount. The growth of my business, which is less than a year old at this point, will be greatly inhibited.

If the city feels that too many businesses are occupying a space, they need to go in and meter those businesses. That doesn’t alleviate the cost to business owners, but it does add a sense of fairness that each business is paying for a service provided to them. It also eliminates the complication of having the property owner be the one to deal with sorting out monthly utility fees.”

Jennings also stated that she had considered operating her business out of her home when she initially opened, but she was able to find a space that was a good fit and a low enough shared cost that she could make it work. “It is possible that I would reconsider moving my business into my home if this ordinance passes. That is not ideal, and it is a shame that the city is driving businesses away from Main Street.”

When asked if there was any benefit to the ordinance, Jennings responded, “The only benefit would be increased revenue for the city, and what that will be spent on I am not sure as there are no additional utility services that will be provided. It also comes with a very high price tag for the smallest businesses in the community.”

Here are just a few numbers to think about: a minimal bill adds up to $95 with $27 for water, $20 for the water project, $0.25 beautification, $9.50 sewer, $3 street lights, $33.50 garbage, $0.25 publication of minutes, and $1.50 to spray for mosquitoes. Now it has been said that these ordinances will lower this bill, but is it right for multiple businesses that share a space and have one meter and one bathroom to all be getting charged in the first place? One business owner was concerned about how high the garbage expense is when it’s a shared dumpster that is always so full. They bring their garbage home most of the time. If it’s being paid for, they should have a place to utilize garbage amenities. Where is the money going? The business owner even mentioned residential garbage is $25/month and has much more garbage than what is produced at work. Again, there is concern that this ordinance will be a financial set back for these property owners.

Community members straight up have said “It’s ridiculous!” - the unfairness and discrimination to these small businesses. One community member said with costs going up, and her as a consumer, she doesn’t want services to go up or worse- close down. It’s a shame we have a beautiful community with a beautiful downtown full of businesses that have to fight the city to keep their doors open.

It’s been mentioned other towns have ordinances like this, and we need to as well. Iafter doing some research, it was found that Walhalla bills per meter, and there had been one situation where a building with 3 spaces for businesses got one bill and split it into 3rds on their own without the city’s need to intervene. The City of Lakota thought that it was crazy and invited anyone to have businesses in Lakota. Devils Lake’s billing said one meter is one bill. For example, the mini mall that used to be Wal-Mart gets the bill for usage on the meter for the whole building as it is on one meter and an extra $3.50 / business for street lights. Businesses like True Bliss in Devils Lake also get billed by the building having one meter. It was asked if the workers at True Bliss were booth renters or employees if it made a difference in billing, and it was clear they don’t monitor what a business is doing for that, and as long as they’re not doing anything illegal, it was not a concern. Park River, Grafton, Rolla, and Bisbee all do not have ordinances like this and were quite confused why Langdon wants to hurt their businesses. Even a booth rental building owner in Grand Forks said she owns the building, and she get the one bill for the one building regardless if one person is renting or all 27 spots were rented. With each renter, the water and electricity would go up anyways which would be accounted for in her rent fee, and her garbage bill is for the building and still did not matter how many renters she has. So, what towns actually charge like this?

The City Commission President was contacted, but instead of answering questions, it was encouraged to come to the next city meeting that will be held Monday, June 28 at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall. At this meeting, the 2nd reading of the ordinance will be voted on. The ordinances are as follows.

AMENDED ORDINANCE 6.0105 AND NEW ORDINANCES 6.0107 AND 6.0108

BE IT ORDAINED BY THE CITY COMMISSION OF THE CITY OF LANGDON, NORTH DAKOTA:

6.0105 WATER, SEWER & GARBAGE MINIMUMS

The owner or owners of all real property located within the City of Langdon’s commercial zones shall be required to pay either their actual use of water, sewer and garbage service, or the minimum charge by the City, whichever is greater on a water, sewer, or garbage service for each business located on their property. The owner or owners of the property shall be subject to a minimum fee regardless of the fact of whether or not there is a separate meter or separate sewer hookup for a particular business for each business located on their property. Furthermore, the owner or owners of the property shall be required to pay a minimum fee for city beautification, streetlights, publication of minutes and mosquito spraying for each business located on their property. Businesses owned by the same entity, located on the same premises and sharing the same employees shall not be construed as separate businesses. All fees assessed under this ordinance shall be billed to the property owner pursuant to ordinance 6.0107.

6.0107 RATES AND CHARGES – LIABILITY FOR

The owner or owners of all real property in the City furnished with garbage, water or sewer service or service line repairs shall be responsible for the payment of any and all such charges and will be billed for such service regardless of who the occupant or tenant may be. If such charges are not paid when due they shall be assessed to the property served.

6.0108 DUTY OF OWNER TO INFORM CITY AUDITOR OF TENANTS

It shall be the property owner’s responsibility to inform the City Auditor for the City of Langdon of any tenants that are conducting business on the owner’s property and using services, such as water, sewer and garbage. If the owner fails to inform the City Auditor of any tenants that are conducting business on the owner’s property and using services, such as water, sewer and garbage, the owner shall be assessed a fee of $200.00 per month the tenant was on the property and not reported by the owner to the City Auditor for the City of Langdon.

First Reading: June 14, 2021

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