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News Community Tattoo artists pay high price to work here

Tony Mingacci giving Joe Nicholas a tattoo on his forearm.Business license fees not comparable to others.

Getting a tattoo in Macon County can be an expensive endeavor. But for tattoo artists, working at their profession can be equally pricey.

In the state of North Carolina, each county sets its own annual fee for tattoo licensing through the local board of health. In Macon County, the cost is $700 for a parlor owner and $500 for every artist therein. According to local tattoo artists, that is just too high.

“It’s pretty ridiculous if you think about it,” said Tony Mingacci, owner of Estelle Tattoo Parlour in Franklin. “Comparatively, anywhere else it’s anywhere from $100 to $250. I don’t understand why they keep it so high for just a few businesses.”

Current tattoo application and permitting fees were approved by the Board of Health in May of 1998, and then approved by County Commissioners shortly thereafter. The fees have not been revised since that time.

According to state attorney Chris Hoke, who helped Macon County adopt its current policy, the state allows for counties to set such fees based on cost estimates to provide for regulatory oversights; such as inspection and transportation costs. “The laws basically make it user-funded,” said Hoke.

But in a county that has just four licensed tattoo artists, the fee is not only outdated, it’s too high.

“They are asking a lot,” said Jessica Darracott, who, along with her husband Nick, own and operate Ink Junkies on U.S. 441 South—a business that has been around for nearly two years. “How many tattoo artists are they actually going out to inspect? There are only a few of us… I don’t think it costs that much to keep track of what we have.”

“When you look at how much other artists are paying in other counties, it seems like we are getting ripped off,” said Nick, whose parlor handles an estimated 500 clients a year.

In neighboring Jackson County, tattoo artists pay just $100 a year for a tattoo permit. In Cumberland County’s Fayetteville, where 112 tattoo artists are registered—among the largest concentration of tattoo artists in the state—a $250 annual fee was established. In Onslow County, home of 103 currently registered tattoo artists, a $400 fee was put in place.

The general consensus among local artists, considering how the Town of Franklin handled licensing fees for sweepstakes machines last year, is that the fees are kept as high as they are to stifle such businesses in Macon County.

Estelle Tattoo Parlour is located on U.S. Hwy. 441 Business. Photo by Vickie Carpenter“It comes across like they just don’t want you tattooing here,” said Mingacci, who for nearly a decade has tattooed all throughout Western North Carolina. “It feels like they don’t want too many shops here. But this is a livelihood for some people.” Mingacci’s shop has been in Macon County for more than five years, and has accumulated an average client count of 800 a year.

With the upcoming town-sponsored biker rally scheduled for August, Mingacci, a married father of two, considered purchasing a booth for the event but was discouraged that the same annual fee applied to his business for such events. “They wanted the full sum ($700),” he laughed. “They wouldn’t prorate it. Any other area prorates for those kinds of things.”

But the high fee does have at least one benefit, according to Darracott. “It does keep artists who aren’t serious from starting a business here,” said Jessica, commenting on the lack of competition within Macon County. “But I think they just want to keep this a ‘small town,’ so they don’t want too many businesses like this to pop up.”

“Personally, I like to know that when I walk into a place that it is inspected and sanitary,” said Jeremiah Drake, coowner and manager of Mulligans Bar & Grill, an establishment that deals with county health inspectors on a quarterly basis. “But it’s kind of steep,” he said of the fee, which his establishment is not beholden to. “If there have been no cases of reported infections or anything, I don’t see why it would be so high. There should be incentives to reduce the fees if those places have built a good reputation within the community.”

According to Becky Barr, Public Information Officer for the Macon County Health Department, County Commissioners approved the current licensing fee in September of 1998, though it was simply an approval of all fees recommended by the Board of Health for the health department and not specific to the tattoo fees. There was no discussion of the fee, indicated by the minutes of that meeting.

Other “categories” require annual fees to the county, according to Barr. For instance, places with swimming pools must pay a total of $300 a year, which includes a plan review and application fee. For each additional pool or spa there is a $50 fee tacked on. For temporary event food stands, the fee is $75, and a $100 fee is levied for mobile food stands.

“Lastly, any member of the public may attend Board of Health meetings,” said Barr in a statement last week. “There is always a public comment session at the beginning of the meeting in which they may direct comments to the board.”

According to both Darracott and Mingacci, an appeal to the board to reduce the exorbitant fee is something they may be considering.

“We are just as much a business as any other,” said Darracott, commenting on the hardships of a business staying afloat in such an economic downturn.


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