Mark Sadd: To fee or not to fee? (Opinion)

To engage in clairvoyancy in Summersville first requires a municipal license. The application fee is $100. Who knew? Perhaps not even the clairvoyants:

“Next! May I help you, Ma’am?”

“That’s Madam. Madam Mirepoix. I’m a clairvoyant moving into Summersville and need a business license to make me legitimate.”

“That’ll be a hundred dollars. No credit cards or personal checks, please.”

“Oh. I didn’t know. Do you take Diner’s Club?”

“That’s a credit card, Madam.

“Trading stamps?


Why clairvoyants are targeted in Summersville and not practitioners of necromancy and the other dark arts, such as journalism and donut-making, is unclear.

Municipal fee-setting and local taxation themselves can become something like a dark art, if placed into the wrong hands.

In Summersville, a hospital with up to 50 beds pays $20 a year in exchange for a city license and the privilege of taking care of sick people. According to the city’s fee schedule, if a hospital has between 100 and 199 beds, it pays $40 for a city license and, if it has more than 200 beds, $50 a year. The hard thought that went into creating a three-tier fee structure for hospitals is amazing.

Yet, a hospital with 83 beds, it appears, pays nothing unless it falls under the catch-all, “Business Not Specifically Listed Above.” Then it pays $15 a year.

In the law world, that is a major loophole.

The fee pricing and trade classifications in Summersville suggest that the ordinance was written sometime during the Truman administration. A resident department store in Summersville pays $10 a year while the itinerant vendor pays $500 for the privilege of blowing through town. That seems like a pure anti-competition move to me.

Notably, a pool hall pays $25 for its first pool table and $15 for each additional table, while a physical therapist pays $35, a barber pays $10 and a lawyer pays $5. (Gee, I wonder who wrote the municipal fee ordinance in Summersville?)

The city of Charleston has a 24-page handbook for new businesses. Sellers of beer, wine and liquor pay up to $1,250 a year for a city license. For everyone else, the general business license is $20. Landlords must list and describe each apartment or dwelling they own and lease to others for a regulatory rationale that remains unclear to this day. I believe that the information they collect mostly gathers dust.

In New Zealand, it takes 10 minutes to set up a new business, the fastest in the world. How many Kiwis it costs to register in that country I’m not sure.

Licensing a new business or an existing one for the privilege of operating within a city or town is an example of nickel-and-diming private enterprise, a pervasive and stubborn American tradition. Because a municipality can pick a pocket doesn’t mean that it should.

In my world, I would handle things differently:

“Welcome to Markville. Our motto is ‘You’re Not an Easy Mark in Markville.’ How may I help you?”

“I want to start a combination pinball gallery and wine spritzer bar.”

“Fill out this index card: Name, address, phone and email and you’re good to go. Or, better, register on your smartphone.”

“Okay. How much do I owe?”

“Twenty Kiwis.”


“Just kidding. Actually, you owe nothing. It’s on us. Here’s our card. Let us know what we can do to help. We’ve got someone on call 24 hours a day.”

“Gosh, I didn’t see that coming.”

“Madam, not even the clairvoyants do.”

Mark Sadd is a Charleston lawyer

and former Daily Mail business editor.

Reach him at

or follow @mark_sadd on Twitter.

Funerals for Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Dotson, Jeffery - 7 p.m., Good Shepherd Mortuary, South Charleston.

Kees, Nancy - 11 a.m., Salem Road Freewill Baptist Church, Oak Hill.

Payne, Arless - 5 p.m., Taylor-Vandale Funeral Home, Spencer.

Taylor, Connie - 11 a.m., Memory Gardens, Low Gap.

Taylor, Joseph - 11 a.m., Gauley Bridge Baptist Church.

Williams, Nellie - 1 p.m., Pineview Cemetery, Orgas.

Yates, Ruth - 11:30 a.m., Sunset Memorial Park Mausoleum, South Charleston.