ELIZABETH, NJ - About 20 protesters came to City Hall last night to demand the repeal of a city ordinance that created new licensing fees for salon owners.

MORE: Read the full ordinance here

“This is our job and we provide jobs to all the people in the city,” Diana Maldonado said during the public comments section at the City Council meeting.  She later added, “All we ask is please remove these ordinances that are really hurting us.”

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The ordinance requires beauty salons and barbershops in the city to pay an annual $350 licensing fee to the city. Any business that also operates as a nail salon has to pay an additional $350 fee. Another $100 permit fee is required for any barber shop or salon that stays open past 8:30 p.m.

No action regarding the fees was up for a vote at yesterday’s meeting, but Maldonado said she and other business owners have been asking City Council for months to eliminate the fees.

Council President Carlos Torres told the protesters at last night’s meeting that City Council will reevaluate and make adjustments to the ordinance that will “tremendously” lower the fees.

“The last time time the beauty salons were here, this council did listen and hear your concerns,” Torres said. “We went back as a group and we looked over the whole ordinance. Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do for this ordinance that's in effect now, but we are making some changes. We know that $800 is a hardship to business owners.”

He further explained that the council “can't just say that we want [the ordinance] to be changed today” because it needs to go through a process.

A first reading of the amendment to the ordinance will take place on Aug. 22 at 7:30 p.m. in the City Hall chambers, City Clerk Yolanda Roberts told TAP after the meeting. Ordinances are not up for a vote on the first reading, but it gives people a chance to discuss any ordinance during a public comments section.

The initial ordinance was voted on in December 2016. Maldonado, who owns the Elegant Look Beauty Salon on Elizabeth Avenue, said she and other salon owners didn’t know about the new fees until they received letters in the mail from the city in January.

Salon owners at last night’s meeting said they don’t understand why they have to pay city fees in addition to licensing fees to the state. Some salons owners said they are now facing fines for not paying the fees on time too.

One woman began to cry during the public comments section as she explained in Spanish how the fees were affecting her.

“I went to the licensing department of the City Hall to ask them for a payment plan for the licenses … and they told me there's no such thing,” Maldonado said, translating for the woman who spoke in Spanish. “It doesn't exist in Elizabeth. You have to pay.”

Meanwhile, Maldonado said New Providence -- which is a borough -- is the only other municipality in Union County that charges beauty salons and barbershops an annual fee of $68. Maldonado also said City Council used Hoboken as a model for the valuation of fees in Elizabeth, which she says is unfair since Hoboken is in a different county and has a different working class.

“I understand New Providence charges, but we are a big city,” Torres said during the meeting. “Elizabeth is the fourth biggest city [in New Jersey]. So we're not comparing to Hoboken or Jersey City, but we came up with a resolution, a plan that we thought was fair.”

City Council will vote on any planned adjustments to the fee ordinance in September, the city clerk told TAP. 

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