Home-based businesses would be directed to register with the city under a plan approved unanimously by Evanston's Economic Development Committee Thursday evening.
But they would escape the $25 annual fee that was included in earlier versions of the plan that led the full City Council to send the proposal back to committee.
Asked by Aldemen Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, and Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, to explain the benefit to business owners of registering, Paul Zalmezak, the city's economic development manager, said the city would create a public database of the businesses which business owners could use to find local vendors for products and services they need to buy.
Zalmezak said, "There have been private attempts to do this that haven't worked out."
It was unclear whether he was referring to current efforts by the Evanston Chamber of Commerce to sell ads in a new business directory product or to the general decline of printed phone directories.
None of the aldermen asked whether, in an era of online search tools like Google, a city-run directory is actually needed to make it possible for interested business owners to find each other.
Zalmezak said the city also wants to be able to reach home-based business owners by email to inform them of city programs and services and invite them to networking events.
He estimates, based on state business registration data, that there are as many as 2,500 home-based businesses in the city.
Asked by Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, whether there would be any financial penalty for home-based businesses that failed to register, Zalmezak said that was not part of the plan. The meeting packet did not include text of an ordinance to put the proposal into effect.
A city staff memo says many Chicago area communities do not require fees or licensing of home-based businesses, but "several" do have such requirements, with fees ranging from $27 to $100 a year.
At the meeting last month at which the City Council voted to send the proposal back to committee, Alderman Robin Rue Simmons suggested creating an optional registration system for home-based businesses and objected to charging any fees because of the tight financial circumstances of many home-based business owners.
The staff proposal would also replace the city's current business licensing system with a business registration scheme that would for the first time require operators of state-licensed businesses to register with the city. Any of those businesses that weren't home-based would be required to pay a $75 annual fee, which also would be applied to most other businesses, with the primary exception of food-service establishments, that are currently licensed by the city.
For some now-licensed businesses the revision would result in a reduction in charges from the rates they now pay.
Non-profit organizations would remain exempt from city registration or licensing under the new scheme.
Chamber backs new small business tax (7/24/19)
EDC backs new tax on small businesses (9/27/18)