Key West looking at raising the cost of business licenses

Businesses across Key West, from massage therapists to gas stations, might see a 5 percent increase in the local business tax.

The proposal is up for a second reading at Tuesday's Key West City Commission meeting and would result in an estimated $65,000 increase in annual revenue, according to city documents.

City Manager Jim Scholl said the additional money would help cover expenses in the city's licensing department and other general-fund expenses. The tax hasn't been raised since 2009.

"There's [consumer price index] increases every year and we haven't done an adjustment for increased costs," Scholl said.

He said the city projects revenue of $1.3 million from the business tax this fiscal year. Payment is due by Sept. 30 of each year.

The tax varies depending on the type of business. For example, a 5 percent increase would increase the fee to $281.14, up from $267.75, for gas stations. Bars with entertainment would pay $203.96, up from $194.25.

Nate Thomas owns Key West Daily Cycle, a bicycle rental company at the Hyatt Key West Resort on Front Street. He isn't happy about any sort of increase.

"They must need [the revenue] for the lawyers' fees," Thomas said, alluding to a $900,000 city payment to the family of Charles Eimers, a Michigan tourist who died in police custody days after a police stop in 2013.

The settlement ended a lawsuit filed by the family against the city and several police officers. The city's insurance covered the payment.

Also Tuesday, Scholl plans to give the commission an update on design plans for a Truman Waterfront park. Asked why the process has taken so long, Scholl said there were a lot of changes over time to what the scope of the project would be.

"The plans are at 90 percent. We're looking at the first phase, which will be mostly infrastructure," he said. "That will start by the end of the calendar year."

The U.S. Navy deeded the 33-acre waterfront, at the end of Southard Street, to the city in 2002 as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process. Over the years, various proposals have been made for its use, including a marina, amphitheater, promenade, sports fields and stables for the Police Department's horses.

The City Commission meets at Old City Hall on Greene Street at 6 p.m. Tuesday.