Proposal would require $35 annual fee for most businesses, fines of $300 per day for non-compliance

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AZTEC — San Juan County commissioners tabled a business registration ordinance Wednesday after residents who opposed the measure said it was government overreach, but they agreed to consider it again in December.

Ordinance No. 95 would require most businesses in the unincorporated areas of the county to pay an annual $35 fee to register with the community development department. Businesses that operate 10 or fewer days a year would need to buy a $10 temporary registration. The county could fine businesses up to $300 a day if they refuse to comply.

Yard sales fewer than three days long, flea and farmers market vendors, and people who sell fruits and vegetables from the side of a road would not need to register.

Supporters of the ordinance say it would allow the county to be sure that businesses are paying state gross receipts taxes and cataloging dangerous chemicals. Officials say there are about 700 businesses in the county.

Most commissioners said they tabled the ordinance so residents would have time to share their concerns with staff members, and staff members would have time to refine the measure. Commissioner Jack Fortner was the only commissioner to oppose tabling it.

“This is a small thing,” he said of the proposed ordinance during Wednesday's meeting. “But small things add up to be big things, and big things add up to be horrible things.”

The county has no comprehensive zoning. Commissioners in 2013 unanimously and indefinitely tabled proposed zoning codes because residents said they would have created too much change. Instead, commissioners have said they’d rather approve zoning incrementally. In 2014, they passed an ordinance that established set-back and licensing requirements for adult entertainment businesses.

Officials say Ordinance No. 95 is not related to the 2014 law.

During Wednesday's meeting, Fire Chief Craig Daugherty said the county’s firefighters don’t have a clear inventory of materials stored at businesses, and that’s a problem when they respond to emergencies. Some businesses store chemicals that are highly explosive, he said.

He reminded people in the commission chambers of a 2013 explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant that killed 15 people, including 12 first responders. According to The Dallas Morning News, the blast injured more than 300 people.

“It’s a concern to me as a fire chief sending my firefighters into that environment,” Daugherty said.

Commissioner Scott Eckstein, a former law enforcement officer, also supported the ordinance.

But Darci Moss, who sells hay from her farm at Cedar Hill, said a $35 annual fee is more than she wants to pay. A $300 fine is also too much, she said.

“I am kind of tired of people telling me what to do,” she said. “I pay (a lot) in taxes. I don’t want them sticking out their hand anymore.”

State Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, sells beef from his ranch in the county and opposes the ordinance. He said as uncertainty is shaking the local oil and gas industry, “it might not be a good time to add more regulations.”

Ron Lyman also attended the meeting as a representative of the San Juan County Citizens Oversight Group, which has a history of opposing such measures.

“The action you take against us defies our constitutional rights,” Lyman said.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.

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