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Lehigh Valley

Bethlehem amends business privilege tax regulations

Bethlehem City Council approved two changes to the business privilege and mercantile tax regulations during Tuesday night's meeting.
The first amendment requires any person or business entity desiring to do business at any temporary event - such as a fair, festival, carnival, craft show - in the city to first obtain a business privilege and mercantile tax license from the city's tax bureau. Further, the resolution notes it's the "duty and requirement of the sponsoring individual, group, association or corporation to provide all of its vendors a city of Bethlehem business privilege and mercantile tax license application."
The city says the amendments will make the process more effective and efficient. Councilman Shawn Martell said that while he thought overall goal of the resolution was good, he said the additional level of requirements could deter some individuals from attending an event.
"It could be the straw that broke the camel's back," Martell said. "...It's adding another hurdle for those one-day event people."
Councilman Adam Waldron acknowledged Martell's concerns could be legitimate, but said there was "just cause for the changes" and the new requirements would ultimately only present a "small barrier" to individuals to address. Ultimately he did not believe it would "dissuade people from getting involved."
The other amendment centered around licenses for real estate rental units in the city. The amendment requires any person or business renting residential or commercial real property in the city is considered to be "doing business" in the city and is subject to the Bethlehem's business privilege tax. In addition, each unit of rented space that has its own identifiable address is considered a separate place of business requiring a separate business license.
In other business, council approved the establishment of two technology initiatives. One was a social media working group that will formally allow the city to collaborate with the public to "enhance the city's use of social media and networking technologies in order to deliver more responsive, interactive and cost-efficient service to city residents."
In supporting the resolution, President William Reynolds said that "2017 is not the highpoint of how people interact with the government" and that by garnering community input and ideas related to social media,  it would support forward-thinking, data-driven decision making as to how the city could better communicate with residents.
"The answers lie outside city hall," Reynolds said. "...There is a lot of enthusiasm about how we use technology" from some members of the public.
The city will also establish an open data working group under much the same premise as the social media group.
Reynolds noted that while this is new to Bethlehem it is not new to other municipalities in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and throughout the United States. The city and members of the open data group would work together to "make better, data-driven decisions, integrating open data and other analytics in our effort to protect the environment."


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