Santa Clara County leaders to consider eliminating more business fees
Plexiglass barriers protect workers and customers at the Almaden Safeway. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Santa Clara County lawmakers want to give 1,000 small businesses a break on more fees just a month after nixing health permit fees.

The proposal, introduced by Supervisors Cindy Chavez and Susan Ellenberg, would eliminate weights and measures device registration fees for the rest of the calendar year. The plan will be considered at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

According to a county report, there are roughly 2,000 retail businesses, including grocers, that operate scanner pricing systems and use various weighing and measuring devices.

Large chain grocery stores like Safeway have more than nine scanners plus numerous scales. Those stores typically pay about $900 a year per store in county fees to register their scanners. In contrast, small grocery stores that would get a break under this proposal pay an average of about $320 per year.

The county defines a small business as a business with two or fewer locations. About 1,000 businesses in the county fall under this criteria and would receive the break from the county. Most of these businesses are grocery stores and gas stations, which rely the most on scanners and scales for business.

“The purpose of these (weights and measures) ordinances is to ensure accuracy in pricing, prevent customers from being overcharged, and create an even playing field across businesses,” wrote Joe Deviney, a county agricultural commissioner and weights and measures sealer, in a memo to supervisors.

Eddie Truong, director of government and community relations for the Silicon Valley Organization, said the plan is a good first step, but there are larger, more urgent issues pressuring the county’s small businesses.

“The fee elimination is a good step in the right direction,”  Truong said. “But we also have to look at eliminating the county’s overzealous fines on businesses that amounted to nearly $5 million, as noted in the Mercury News’ investigative report.”

The report found that Santa Clara County businesses were 14 times more likely to get fined for COVID safety violations than any other Bay Area county.

Truong said after that, the next best thing the county can do for business is get all residents vaccinated so the economy can reopen safely.

Businesses would still have to register their devices, and would just get a break on the fees. Deviney estimated this would cost the county about $500,000 for the next calendar year. Chavez and Ellenberg have suggested drawing from the county’s general fund to cover the expense.

“I think this is a relatively small price to pay for businesses in our community,” Chavez said. “Remember, throughout the country, our small businesses are some of our largest employers. So by making sure we’re protecting small businesses, it also makes sure we protect… our communities.”

Chavez said the county could receive reimbursement through FEMA or recent federal government COVID relief measures to make up for losing the revenue.

“These are all annual costs that they would normally have, so this allows them to tuck away some money and use them for other things,” Chavez said Monday. “We think waiving the fees will really help the smallest businesses in our community. We also think by focusing on the small businesses, we’ll be able to address inequities.”

The Board of Supervisors meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. The board agenda and options for watching can be found here.

Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

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