Montgomery businesses lament minimum-wage hike, permitting process -- Gazette.Net


Revenue at Seibel’s Restaurant in Burtonsville has declined slightly each year since 2006 but may turn a corner this year with a 2 percent increase, co-owner Lynn Martins said.

But if a minimum-wage hike proposed by Montgomery County Councilman Marc Elrich is passed, she said the family business, which dates to 1939, could return to singing the blues.

Martins estimated Monday during an economic summit organized by the state Comptroller’s Office that the proposal could cost her business about $100,000 in the first year. And that doesn’t count giving employees who are making more than the minimum wage a raise, she said, adding that putting in a bar has brought in enough business to likely save the restaurant from closing.

“When did the minimum wage become a wage to support a family on?” Martins asked. “I’m working twice as hard these days and making half as much.”

Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park proposed increasing the minimum wage in the county from $7.25 to $8.25 an hour starting next July 1, $9.75 an hour on July 1, 2015, and $11.50 an hour on July 1, 2016. Members of the Prince George’s County Council and Washington, D.C., Council have proposed similar bills.

Elrich has said he’s spoken with business owners and added measures to address some of their concerns. The bill contains exemptions, such as for workers who receive tips and younger employees who receive an opportunity wage under state or federal laws. There is also a 90-day introductory period during which an employee can be paid at the previous year’s wage level. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for Oct. 24.

Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) said he hears similar difficult stories from business owners throughout the state.

“The heart and soul of our economy is small businesses like Lynn’s,” he said.

The minimum-wage issue was one of several raised during the half-day meeting at the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville, which was attended by about 60 business executives and public officials. The permitting process in the county is still costly and difficult to navigate, said Adam Greenberg, president and founder of Restaurant Zone, a company that manages several Potomac Pizza restaurants in Montgomery County.

He described how he thought he was following regulations to obtain a permit for a project but had to resubmit, costing him tens of thousands of dollars.

“I love Montgomery County and have my business here. But it’s very hard to do business here,” said Greenberg, also president of the Potomac Chamber of Commerce.

The county has a small business navigator, Judy Stephenson, who helps businesses through the permitting process, among other programs and aid, said Steven A. Silverman, director of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development.

“I’m not going to argue with anyone,” Silverman said. “We have to do a much better job in permitting.”

Silverman added that the county needs to retain its economic development incentive programs and focus on state tax reform such as on income taxes for pass-through entities like limited liability corporations.

Officials also need to review the state and local tax structure, as well as better leverage state assets like the Port of Baltimore, said Gigi Godwin, president and CEO of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce. Others called for doing away with the county energy tax and engaging in more effective lobbying of public officials.

Montgomery’s economy, with its strength in health care information technology, life sciences and cyber security, is deep in the industries that will be big in the near future, Godwin said.

“We’re what’s next,” she said.