Palestine debates registration requirement

EAST PALESTINE – A suggestion made by Councilman Don Elzer earlier this month would open the door for government to get involved in an area it shouldn’t, Councilman Alan Cohen said Tuesday.

The suggestion to require business and commercial property owners to register with the village for a $25 fee was made by Elzer at the last council meeting and discussed for a second time this week.

Currently, there are no requirements in place for those opening a new business in town or operating property for commercial or industrial purposes.

Elzer believes registration would allow the village to keep tabs on what buildings and properties are being used for-knowledge he believes is especially beneficial for safety reasons.

“From a safety standpoint our police and fire departments certainly need to know what is going on in our buildings,” he said.

Cohen opposes the idea and argued he doesn’t believe registration will “solve the problem,” but will instead discourage new business.

He added Elzer’s suggestion business owners pay the fee to receive a certificate that must be posted prior to opening is like making the registration function as a permit, and what would happen if a business is denied a certificate?

“This is what scares me. Not today, but two or five years from now, what we have is a permit situation where someone somewhere is going to say, ‘We don’t want another tattoo parlor or another bar,’ so they don’t get a certificate,” he said.

Elzer countered the registration is more about knowing what businesses are in town and what is being done with commercial property.

Business owners recently advised him they were “shocked” to learn the village did not require a permit to operate, as other communities do, he added.

Village Manager Pete Monteleone said he was also shocked when he found local businesses were not required to obtain a license first.

“The easiest way to rattle my cage is to tell me everybody else is doing it. That might be a good reason not to do it … It’s just one more government intrusion,” Cohen said.

He added the village has been getting along fine without the requirement so far.

“We are, at this point trying to attract businesses into town and this is one barrier in their way to doing it,” he said.

Councilman Fran Figley said that while on the same page with Cohen regarding government control, he couldn’t see a downside to the suggestion.

He said he believed the fee would be put toward acquiring a building inspector.

“We do need a building inspector and we don’t have any money to pay for it. I thought that was some way to get money to pay for it. I think it would be helpful for some businesses to have that in place, that’s why I’m in favor of it,” he explained.

Cohen agreed an inspector is needed but believed the registration is “putting the cart before the horse.”

“We have no way of enforcing this anyway,” he said.

The discussion then turned to registration form confidentiality.

Cohen said the forms, once on file at the administrative offices, would become public record and “anyone walking in off the street” can request them.

The draft forms Elzer gave to council earlier this month request contact information, e-mail addresses and even social security identification.

Village Solicitor Shirley Smith said certain information, such as SSI, can be redacted before being made public.

A few people attending the meeting weighed in on the matter. One man who did not identify himself said the village should know if new businesses are adhering to the zoning classifications and occupancy requirements, but the village could become liable if a certificate is issued and a building is later deemed unsafe.

Monteleone said some state inspectors and the village’s police and fire chiefs perform inspections every so often.

The discussion ended with no action.