Calgary city administrators are recommending council eliminate business licence fees in 2021 — and two councillors are calling to extend that initiative to 2022 as well.
The waived fees would be part of a $30-million aid package approved earlier this month to provide targeted relief for small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Councillors Jeff Davison and Ward Sutherland argue removing licence fees for the next two years will foster economic recovery in the city.
“We’re going to have to do everything within our power within the city to ensure businesses can remain open over the short term,” Davison said.
“The after-effects of COVID are going to be long-term, and those effects are going to be negative, in particular, for many small businesses.”
Sutherland said the goal for relief is to provide aid to local small businesses, while avoiding doling out benefits to big-box companies that made money during the pandemic.
“We’re looking at how we can help all the businesses, rather than the multinationals who don’t need it,” Sutherland said.
“We’re here to support all the smaller businesses. It’s like death by 1,000 fees. It’s just one less bill they have to pay or worry about.”
Sutherland said the initiative was even more important for businesses like bars and restaurants that have been shut down through much of the last year.
Waiving business licence fees for one year could cost the city up to $8.8 million.
Currently, licensing fees for businesses can cost anywhere from $64 to $1,284. Annual licenses are required for both new and established businesses.
Murray Sigler, interim CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber supported the move and hoped council would approve it Monday.
“This is a small step in terms of the actual amount, but it’s a big step in that (council) is going beyond talking and they’re actually making some decisions,” Sigler said.
If council approves the plan Monday, administrators will return to council in May with more options for the remaining portion of the $30 million of the business aid package.
That may take the form of a grant system for small businesses, supports specifically aimed at those hit hardest by COVID-19 or supports for all businesses impacted by the pandemic.
Sigler said city council and administration needed to stick to that May timeline to align aid with the economic recovery projected for later this spring.
“Otherwise, by the time we get around to it, maybe we won’t need the relief that much because many of the businesses that are local, that we hope will be reached by it, won’t be in business anymore,” he said.
“They need the relief in May. They don’t need it in August or September.”