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City of Ceres to offer online business licensing service
Cost of online service cheaper than a clerks salary

Paying for a business license online is the aim of a new program the city of Ceres has initiated with an independent firm.

The city requires all persons doing business in Ceres to have a business license and the Finance Department at City Hall is in charge of processing business license applications and taking payments. The department works with the code enforcement officers in the event that a business is not complying with the requirement.

A senior account clerk was working on overseeing business licenses on a part-time basis. That person was promoted out of the Finance Department, leaving a vacancy and an opportunity to make a change to "enhance our customer service options," said Finance Director Suzanne Dean.

She said numerous business persons have asked if the city could offer online service for business licensing.

"The common request is the ability to apply for and pay licensing and fees without necessitating a visit to City Hall," said Dean in her report to the City Council.

The council last month approved an agreement with MuniServices, LLC, of Birmingham, Ala., to provide the service on a website. Interactive software will allow persons to apply for a business license online, pay the fees, print their license and view or print their account history without having to contact City Hall.

Employees of the Finance Department will continue to field questions on the phone or over the counter.

"It is anticipated the bulk of transactions will be processed through MuniServices and will increase our customer service responsiveness for this service," said Dean.

The new service will help the city find businesses that have managed to get away without having a license, fallen through the cracks because checks are manually done.
The service is not free, however. The city has to pay a one-time fee of $10,000 and the company will charge the city $10 per license being handled on the web. Calculating the 1,837 active business license accounts, the fee would come to approximately $18,370 annually. Dean said while that sounds expensive, it's cheaper than what it would cost in salary for the clerk that was paid to do the job.

MuniServices has been performing another service for the city for many years. The company has monitoring sales tax collection to ensure Ceres has been getting its share of taxes generated in the city of Ceres bearing a Modesto mailing address. It has also analyzed the city's top performing sales tax generators. It recently expanded its consulting services to include the administration of business licenses.

"The plan is to have the service ready for the quarterly reporting and any new business applications as of Jan. 1," said Dean. "The annual renewal process will be ready by April 1, 2016."