The city is waiving its business licensing fees for the next year and dropping its late fees on 2021 property tax payments to ease the financial burden across Barrie.
Council passed motions to these effects Monday night.
Businesses licensing fees from April 26, 2021 to April 26, 2022 will be waived, although businesses will still need to complete all required applications, forms and inspections.
“Obviously, we know a lot of our businesses are suffering,” Coun. Gary Harvey said. “There have been certain sectors that have been obviously hit harder than others, especially when it comes to restaurants and personal care services throughout our city. This is just one more… tool in our tool box that allows us to help our local businesses, because we are obviously very limited to what we can do. We can’t run deficits like other higher levels of government.”
The move could cost the city approximately a half-million dollars, Harvey said.
“But in the grand scheme of things, $500,000 back into our local businesses is a small piece that we can do. I know there are some businesses that have not been able to renew their licences to date,” he said.
“I think probably the last thing a restaurant trying to re-open or a barbershop trying to re-open needs is a $400 or $500 bill for their business licence right now,” said Mayor Jeff Lehman. “I think the $500,000 in forgone (city) revenue is a no-brainer in terms of the way this can support our business, and this is something we can do right now.”
“I don’t think this will make or break any business, but it certainly is a help and I think it’s an important gesture from the city,” said Coun. Keenan Aylwin.
Council also waived all late fees until Oct. 1, 2021 for Barrie 2021 property tax payments, with any late fees paid to date being applied as a credit against the account.
Lehman noted the city did this last year, too.
“The take-up on this was considerably lower, especially among the residential property tax classes, than I thought it would be,” he said. “There was real take-up from the commercial class though, and that is one of the reasons why I wanted to bring it forward now. Not just because we’re back into, in fact, the second stay-at-home order in 2021; there are businesses that have been more heavily impacted already in 2021 than there were really throughout all of 2020.
“But especially right now with the urgency, I think for those small businesses in particular who cannot afford to pay their taxes - this will provide them some at least relief until the fall.”
The waiver is for property tax late fees for all of 2021, until Oct. 1.
A new $800,000 grant program for small Barrie businesses affected by COVID-related restrictions has been referred by council to city staff for further review and consideration, and a report back to councillors.
“After further consideration, after general committee, it seems wiser to let staff have a period of time to review the proposed program,” said Coun. Clare Riepma, who asked for the motion to be referred.
Lehman has estimated the Barrie small business tax relief grant could help 200 to 300 businesses. The grants would be equivalent to 25 per cent of commercial and industrial property taxes paid to the city in 2020, to as much as $5,000 per business.
The program would be funded from two sources — $600,000 from the tax rate stabilization reserve and $200,000 from the city’s reinvestment reserve.
Eligibility criteria was to include that the business be personal service, a fitness or recreational establishment, restaurant/food service, retail store, arts/culture/recreational organization and have 20 employees or less, except in the case of restaurants/food service establishments. Proof of payment of property tax to the city in 2020 would have been needed and the business must have attested to a loss of revenue as a consequence of COVID-19 and/or public health restrictions. The business must be owned by individuals who are Ontario residents and conduct business primarily in Ontario; it could not be a corporate outlet, branch, or store, but may be a franchise, and must have been doing business as of March 1, 2021.
City staff were also to investigate the creation of a financial support grant program for home-based businesses and report back.