Local small business fights city hall in Arvin

Local small business fights city hall in Arvin

ARVIN, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - A local small business owner is disputing a demand from the city of Arvin that her company must get a city business license.

The family has an excavation operation, and they don't think they need a license in Arvin and complain information about their company was obtained under false pretense.

Sheila James got a letter with the city of Arvin logo and its address at the top, and a message that her husband's backhoe business must apply for a license and pay $201.

She said it goes back to a phone call she took.

"I got a call a few weeks prior to the letter, and I thought it was from a potential customer," James told Eyewitness News. "They said, 'Do you work in the city of Arvin?' I said, 'Yes, we'll work in the city of Arvin.'"

She's re-thinking that conversation after getting the letter, which says the city is aware she is conducting business in that community.

"According to your conversation with our Code Enforcement Offsite Division Contractor, HelpMyCommunity (HMC) on 11/4/2013, you have verified with them that you are conducting business in the City of Arvin," reads the letter.

"That may be the person I thought was a potential customer," James said. She didn't think much about the query, but she was a little surprised by one of the man's questions. He asked how much the company worked in Arvin.

"I think I said one or two days a year," James said. She hoped it would mean a few days' work.

Eyewitness News discovered HelpMyCommunity is a company that helps cities identify businesses in their jurisdiction. The HMC website says they are a "business tax revenue generating system for your community."

Cecilia Vela identified herself as Arvin's acting city manager, and on Wednesday she told Eyewitness News the Arvin City Council had approved a contract with HMC as a consultant.

Vela said some businesses in the community had complained that some companies were not getting the required licenses. James said her husband's one-man business has not been in Arvin for the past couple years, and they don't get business licenses from individual cities anyway.

Contractors call them in on jobs when excavation is needed, and those contractors have the business licenses. Her company does have a California State Contractor's License. James said she knows of two other small businesses that got similar letters from Arvin.

She said both called the number for HMC listed on the letter.

"He wasn't overly nice," she said of the man who answered. "Kind of intimidating."

One of those other companies will pay for the license, the other called Arvin City Hall and found out they don't have to.

From Arvin, Vela said the city is now working with HMC to define which companies are "transacting and carrying on any business," and to "clarify what this means as it relates to individual business types."

Vela said the city apologizes for any confusion, and businesses who question the letters they got can call city hall to sort this out.

The clerk's office can be reached at (661) 854-3134. James said her next call will be to Arvin officials. She'd tried to call the number for HMC on the letter, but only got an answering machine.

She's convinced her family business isn't required to have a license, and said paying for it would be a hardship. Her husband was off work for 10 months battling cancer. They're glad he is back at work again, but bills have piled up.

"I'm not going to pay $201 for an Arvin city business license, unless, of course, Arvin wants to employ my husband," James said.

Even at that, she's unhappy with how Arvin tried to get her to pay. James said the man who called from HMC should have identified who he was representing, and what he really wanted.

"I think they need to represent themselves better," James said. "And if they had been truthful, they would have found out we weren't working in Arvin."