Business owner protests licensing fee sent to Seattle

Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2002

KENAI (AP) -- Business owner Claudia Knickerbocker wanted to renew her business license by mail, but when she saw she was required to send a check to Seattle, she considered breaking the law.

''How can we say 'Buy Alaska' when you can't even get a business license in Alaska?'' she asked.

Knickerbocker, who makes wholesale ceramic gifts, has written to Gov. Frank Murkowski to protest.

Jennifer Strickler, administrative manager for the state Division of Occupational Licensing, said the Outside connection for mail renewals was an attempt to streamline licensing.

About two years ago, applications went through an Anchorage post office box. The division discontinued that address to cut out a step in the process.

Business license renewals now are sent to an address belonging to Retail Lock Box Inc., a subcontractor of KeyBank of Alaska, which contracts with the state to receive renewal forms, process checks, send backup paperwork to the state and post an electronic file of all payments deposited to the state Treasury Division.

Strickler's division also deals with other professional licensing, including real estate, nursing, midwifery and dentistry. She said the use of the Outside contractor helps speed up processing time.

''If the money comes into the division here, (we) get backlogged,'' she said. ''If we have to handle the checks, it takes quite a bit longer for us to process.

''The benefit to the individual is that they'll get their renewals quicker. We print licenses every Tuesday and Thursday with a turnaround of about a week.

''Before we went to the lock box, turnaround was anywhere from four to six weeks because those renewals were in competition with other professional licensing,'' she said.

The KeyBank contract covers May 1999 through April 2004, said Bruce Smith, Treasury Division assistant cash manager. He said the state began using lock box services before 1994.

''The reason we went to the lock box was because of the significant delays,'' Smith said. ''It was taking in excess of 10 weeks to get checks cleared. It also called for significant overtime, because the process took lots of hours.''

He said the service is able to clear checks the same day they are received.

Knickerbocker said she appreciates the state's efforts to streamline bureaucracy but the concept goes against the principle of promoting the Alaska economy.

''Emotionally, it just seems wrong,'' she said. ''It's like calling New York to get phone service.''

Smith said the state is not out to undo its own push to keep Alaska money in Alaska.

''We certainly support Alaska businesses,'' he said. ''We had one responsive bid, so that certainly limited the field. We hope we will have a firm or Alaska business that will be bidding on this contract next time around.''

Knickerbocker said she tried to use the state's Internet option to renew her option, without success.

''They don't take American Express,'' she said. ''They leave me no choice. I have to send my money to Seattle.''

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