Businesses in White Rock shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic, or forced to curtail sidewalk patio activities, got some additional breaks from council at Monday night’s meeting.
Bylaw amendments passed unanimously extend a 10 per cent discount on business licence fee renewals to businesses that have been forced to close during the crisis and will also reimburse fees collected from businesses for use of sidewalk patios that are dormant under current restrictions.
The licence discount, usually an incentive for early renewals, will be offered to closed businesses just the same as if they had renewed their licences prior to the expiry date, planning and development services director Carl Isaak said in a report to council.
“Certainly there are businesses that are closed now, and unsure whether they’re going to reopen, or not even receiving mail because they’re not at their place of business,” Isaak said.
“We want to recognize that those circumstances are out of their control and they should be eligible for that same 10 per cent discount if their licence expires due to closures related to COVID.
“They can come in, after it’s expired, maybe four months down the road and would like to reopen, and we want to offer them the same discount,” he said. “It doesn’t change what our budgeting projections are, because that was already anticipated.”
Coun. Anthony Manning wondered whether the city could defer the renewal date for two or three months.
But Isaak said he recommended maintaining the same annual term, rather than making a host of adjustments, noting that not having a licence has no impact on a shuttered business.
Returning sidewalk patio fees to business owners, recommended in a further report from Isaak, was another easy sell for council.
“Currently businesses are not permitted to have dine-in; they must be take out or delivery only if they’re still operating, and the businesses that do have sidewalk patios are still paying for those, or have actually paid up-front for the year in advance,” he said .
“(We’re) proposing that we reimburse them on a monthly basis, for a business that has been unable to exercise the use of our sidewalk.”
Isaak said that reimbursement would currently be for March and April.
“If somebody had a licence that renewed in May, they’ve already benefited for 12 months, so we would give them a portion of their fees back.”
He said the city would also suspend its requirement that businesses pay fees, at the time they renew, for any period that the pandemic requires their continued closure.
“The licence itself stays active, despite them not paying their fee, because if we were to cancel a sidewalk use licence, we’d have to require that they remove all the patio infrastructure, which could be both quite costly – and wasteful, if they’re intending to move back in there.”
Questioned by Coun. Erika Johanson on what funding source would be needed to make up the revenue shortfall, Isaak said that although that had not yet been identified, “It wouldn’t be a large amount – we’re looking in the $10,000 to $20,000 range.”