Edmonton’s executive committee is recommending city council cut business licence fees in half — across the board — for the next year.
Mayor Don Iveson said the committee wants business owners to know city hall is aware of their struggles and is doing what it can to help.
If approved by city council at a future meeting, most businesses would save $122 on their annual renewal because most business licenses cost $244.
“We’re earmarking — just to make it tangible — $5 million from the COVID(-19) reserves, some of which came from the surplus we were talking about last week, to turn right around and give it back to businesses that are struggling,” Iveson explained.
Last year, the city offered a fee reduction only to businesses that applied, but this would be a blanket approach.
“It’s a general, straightforward way for us to provide relief to all businesses in the city, under the reasonable assumption that most of them are struggling right now,” Iveson said.
Rob Davy, the owner of Laser City, said he knows that pain.
“We’re in the business of people coming together for indoor activities — birthday parties, that kind of thing,” he said.
Davy acknowledged those are exactly the sort of activities that have been deemed unsafe amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve been closed for seven of the last 12 months,” he said.
“We’ve only been allowed to open for about five months, and even those five months, there’s been restrictions on what we can do.”
Davy said the last year has been the most challenging to overcome in his eight years in business.
Laser City is trying to stay busy by moving its services online, hosting virtual birthday parties, after-school clubs and day camps.
The business took an inventory of its equipment to see if anything might hold value in today’s reality.
“We’ve been renting out our virtual-reality equipment for people to use at home,” Davy said.
But still, none of it is enough.
“We’ve been heavily reliant on government support,” Davy said.
“We’ve been getting a decent amount of subsidies from the federal government, and loan programs, which is huge.”
He welcomed news of another potential financial break, albeit a small one.
“We’re grateful for any kind of support from any level of government,” Davy said.
“Unfortunately for us, our business licence is only about $250 a year, so 50 per cent off is $125. We’re definitely not going to turn it down. We’re not going to say no. Realistically, it’s not going to change the situation for us.”
Davy said he believes Laser City could fall into the province’s fourth step of restriction relaxation and is patiently awaiting safer days.
“We’re not holding our breath,” he said. “We would rather open when the time is right and when it’s safe for everybody, otherwise it’s just an unnecessary risk.”
The owner of Spiritleaf Argyll Plaza, a cannabis store, said her business licence savings would potentially be significantly larger.
Jessica Petryshyn said she stands to receive $1,250 off her licence renewal come December.
“To come into our second year of business and then have this pandemic hit, it took a big toll on us,” she said. “It was a big challenge physically, mentally, emotionally and also financially.”
If approved by council, the recommendation by executive committee would see business licence costs reduced starting in April and run through until the end of March, so as to catch a full year’s worth of renewals, not leaving out any business.
Although cannabis dispensaries did not close during the lockdowns and have been deemed essential, their bottom lines have still been dragging.
“Not as many people were leaving their homes, going to work, going about their day-to-day business,” Petryshyn said. “So it obviously took a toll on our sales as well as our foot traffic that came into the store.”
She said she hopes city hall continues to engage business owners in discussions, to understand the unique challenges each entrepreneur faces.
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