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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Fairfield's Business Licensing Code


Update: 09/16/15: At the September 15, 2015 Township Committee meeting I learned that the version of Fairfield's business licensing code at the link below, which I received in response to a recent OPRA request, had been amended once or twice.  The Clerk told that she was not aware of these amendments when she fulfilled by my OPRA request.  I have OPRA'd the amendments and all the versions of the ordinance were made available are on-line here..
Since I've started looking into Fairfield's government, I've heard many complaints regarding the Township's alleged failure or refusal to enforce its business licensing code against certain businesses, particularly trucking businesses, owned or operated by Township officials or employees.  In order to investigate this, I obtained a copy of § 4-4--the section of the Township Code that governs business licenses.

The first question I confronted was: What types of businesses are required to obtain licenses?

Code § 4-4.1 sets forth eight specific categories of businesses that require licenses but many of the listed categories are subsumed by a catchall provision in the first paragraph of § 4-4.1 that subjects businesses that "sell or offer for sale any goods, chattels, or merchandise of any kind or description" to licensure.  Absent from § 4-4.1 is any general rule requiring businesses that provide services, as opposed to those that provide goods and merchandise, to obtain a business license.  Thus my interpretation of the code is that lawyers and other professionals who have home offices, barbers and hairdressers and other service related businesses do not have to have a license unless they fall into one or more of the eight specific categories delineated under § 4-4.1.  (Those who run home-based businesses may, however, need to comply with zoning or other codes.)

Whether or not a trucking business requires a license turns on the proper interpretation of § 4-4.1(d) which subjects to licensure: "Hacks, taxicabs, omnibuses, stages, trucks and all vehicles (horsedrawn or motor) used for the transportation of merchandise, goods or chattels and of passengers for hire."  Is a trucking company that hauls asphalt and other road construction material, for instance, using its "trucks . . . for the transportation of merchandise, goods or chattels"?

It is arguable that such an asphalt-hauling truck would need a license.  But it's also arguable that the purpose of the code is, or at least should be, to protect the public from unscrupulous vendors (the theory is that requiring licensure would weed out all but the honest vendors). In this light, it's hard to see how local licensing of an asphalt-hauling trucker (who probably picks up and delivers asphalt in areas other than Fairfield) would protect anyone.

Rather than quibble about which businesses fall under the existing code, a more productive avenue would be for the Township Committee to decide which, if any, categories of business should be subject to licensure and then amend the ordinance to clearly delineate those categories.

I suggest scrapping the business licensing code in its entirety. Since most businesses fall under other regulatory schemes (e.g. restaurants are subject to health codes, barbers and hairdressers are required to have state-issued cosmetology licenses, etc.) it appears that adding an extra layer of licensing does nothing to protect the public or to promote any legitimate governmental interest.

I will ask Mayor Byrd and the Township Committee to put this item on the September 15, 2015 meeting agenda for discussion.





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