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City keeps firm to administer business licenses
• Council votes 3-1 to continue with MuniServices
Ceres city seal

The city will continue to contract with a Fresno firm that administers the business licenses for the city following last week’s 3-1 vote of the Ceres City Council.

MuniServices has satisfactorily provided business license services to the city for five years, said city of Ceres Finance Director Leticia Dias. In extending the contract, MuniServices will allow the city to provide online service so that merchants may apply for a license online, pay the fees, print their business license, as well as view or print their account history without having to contact city offices. Merchants may also reprint their license should they need a copy for other government agencies, eliminating the need to pay for a copy and wait for the license to be reprinted.

The city’s Finance Department staff will continue to assist merchants who call with questions or come into the offices with questions or concerns.

Besides the service, MuniServices has access to software for analysis as well as government databases that can be utilized to increase business license revenue by locating businesses that are unlicensed within Ceres’ jurisdiction.

The cost of the annual contract is $10 per license being administered. Based on the 1,652 active business license accounts the city currently has, the annual fee would be $16,520.

Dias said the “increased revenue and lower staff costs will more than pay for itself and provide a higher level of customer service.”

Vice Mayor Couper Condit pulled the item from the consent calendar, asking Dias the purpose of the contract was despite her detailed staff report explaining about the contract. She also explained that the city had a full-time employee to handle business licenses prior to MuniServices being hired in 2015.

Citizen John Osgood walked up to the podium to express concern “about the little things we keep approving.” He suggested the city website could be modified to allow merchants to conduct business license transactions “at a much lower rate.”

Condit asked if there was a better way that cost less. She replied that a full-time entry-level account clerk costs about $87,000 per year.

“We believe that this is the best option for the city,” said Dias. “It costs about $17,000 to administer the whole program; that’s why we initially chose it – for the cost savings and the increased revenue.”

Citizen Brandy Meyer reminded the council that MuniServices also administers the quarterly assessments downtown merchants pay for the Ceres Downtown Revitalization Area Board.

When it went to a vote, Condit voted no while Mayor Javier Lopez and councilmembers Linda Ryno and Bret Silveira voted in favor of it.

The council won’t meet again until Monday, April 12.