Some Sooke businesses don’t need to pay for this year’s business licence after district council approved a freeze on annual fees.
The decision affects 185 businesses that have not paid their 2021 business licence fees. In many cases, it’s the result of ongoing struggles many merchants face due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayor Maja Tait said she struggled with whether the decision is fair to the many businesses that pay their business licences on time and annually.
“It’s not ideal, but we need to start somewhere. And we also need to consider staff resourcing and availability - do we pay more in staff time to chase down every single fee, or do we find other ways to get on with it,” she said.
“We’re (the council) trying to make the best of a non-ideal situation.”
According to a municipal staff report, there are 740 licenced businesses in Sooke. The waiving of fees will cost the district more than $30,000.
“It should be noted, however, that many of these businesses are likely no longer operating, and this outstanding balance is therefore significantly inaccurate,” the report stated. Eighty-five of the businesses have remained in arrears for more than two years and may no longer be in business.
Carolyn Mushata, the district’s corporate officer, told council May 10 that some businesses have indicated a willingness to pay their account balances in instalments, the business licence bylaw does not allow for this option, and municipal staff believe the resources expended in collecting the debts would not be a good use of resources.
Businesses pay licence fees between $50 and $250 annually.
The Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce is applauding council for the waiving of business fees.
“I think it’s fantastic news,” Britt Santowski, the chamber’s executive director, said.
“If it keeps a business in operation, it’s a good thing.”