City staff propose hike in business licence fees

Plan would generate an estimated $166,000 in additional yearly revenue, according to a report presented to Abbotsford council.

Paul Esposito

Paul Esposito

Local pub owner Paul Esposito says the restaurant and bar industry has taken enough hits in the last couple of years, and it can’t handle a proposed hike in business licence fees.

Esposito, owner of the Phoenix Lounge and Finnegan’s Pub and Grill, hopes that Abbotsford council’s finance committee reconsiders a city staff recommendation to raise fees for “liquor primary” businesses from $520 to $1,500.

He said the industry is already in a fragile position, due to losses related to the economic downturn, the introduction of the HST, and tougher drinking-and-driving laws.

“It’s a huge hit. It’s not warranted at this time. We don’t have it (the money),” he said.

Jay Teichroeb, general manager of economic development and planning services, said at Monday’s council meeting that Abbotsford’s fees have not been increased since 2007, when they were raised four per cent.

He said the current fees are less than those in many surrounding communities. Raising them as proposed, including adding two new categories, would generate approximately $166,000 in additional revenue each year.

Among the hardest hit categories, in addition to pubs and bars, would be commercial businesses of more than 1,800 square metres (going from $240 to $1,000), liquor stores (from $270 to $500), restaurants (from $270 to $400) and real estate offices (from $120 to $500).

Oil storage/pipeline businesses and ATMs that are not part of a bank currently pay no fees, but under the proposed structure would be charged $3,000 and $140, respectively.

Council voted to refer the matter to its finance committee for discussion and to obtain input from the business community.

Allan Asaph, executive director with the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber’s board will discuss the matter at its meeting next Tuesday and provide feedback to the committee.

He said raising the fees could be hard on some local businesses, but a proposal for mobile business licences also needs to be considered.

The chamber has asked the city to implement a system that allows 1 to operate across participating communities under just one licence and a secondary mobile licence. Under the current system, such a business must obtain a licence from each city in which it operates.

Asaph said, under the mobile system, it is beneficial for each community to have similar licensing fees, so that one city does not have an advantage over another.

He said the chamber has already started canvassing its members for input on the proposal to raise the fees.