The last regular council meeting saw the first reading of a bylaw that covers the fees the district charges. One of the sections covers business licences. Previously I had feedback from a number of residents that were either very much for, or very much against the districts’ policy on business licensing.
During the debate on the bylaw, I asked staff what was done if a business simply refused to get a business licence. They told me the district did not do business with unlicensed businesses. I pointed out that this was an untrue statement since until recently the district used a local media supplier that never has had a licence.
Bear in mind here, that while staff recently did try to deal with the apparent issue of those businesses that were not compliant, they have not as yet given a report to council around any issues, nor have they asked for direction as to how to proceed. I assume that the process has not yet been completed.
As to the question why the district even has a business licence program, staff said that having the business licence requirement gave the fire chief the ability to carry out an inspection. I asked the Chief for clarification, and he said he has the ability to do inspections as needed and that these are done even if there is no licence in place. The business licence was not a primary driver to carry out inspections.
District staff were asked what the revenue from business licences was, and they said it was approximately $10,000. When asked where these funds went, staff replied that at present the funds go to general revenue, but that council has the ability to have them directed as they see fit. To date they have received no direction from council.
If the funds just go into general revenue this may be why some business owners who refuse to get a licence view the process as just another tax with no real benefit.
It may be beneficial if the district reviews the use of these funds and makes a statement along the lines of “The primary purpose of business licences is to ensure that the district’s municipal land use regulations, building and fire codes and other community safety requirements are followed by businesses. The business licence program also collects important statistical information about local business activities in order to understand trends that impact district policy decisions. Revenue collected from business licences is used to pay for administration and enforcement of business licences and to fund economic development initiatives that bring growth and other benefits to the district.”
I like this statement because it addresses the use of the funds. Having the money go to economic development and encouraging growth in the community is a good idea.
The problem with this statement is that we are not doing the enforcement portion. There are no penalties that can be imposed if a business refuses to apply for, and pay for, a licence. This portion of the program was never done.
When asked why this is, the case staff said again that they have not received direction from council to develop that portion of the program. Staff also stated that there was no way to effectively collect any fines levied outside of going to court. Other communities are able to do this enforcement, so more research may be needed.
The question remains. Do we take the next step and start enforcement of the business licence program rules, or do we scrap the program to make things fair for everyone?
Presently it is only due to the community spirit of the businesses involved that the fees are collected. Is this fair? What is best for the community and local businesses?
If we scrap the licensing program will the $10,000 previously collected under the program still find its way into the community through the generosity of the businesses? Will these businesses fund economic development voluntarily? Should the people that earn the money have the right to choose what they support with their money?
During the debate councillors stated that they have received no public input on the matter. Second reading of the bylaw is Oct. 21.