Abbotsford city hall is asking too much of its business owners.
That was the message brought by Shachi Kurl, director of provincial affairs for B.C. and Yukon for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), as she attended a meeting of the city audit and finance committee on Tuesday afternoon at city hall.
The CFIB has 215 members in Abbotsford, who Kurl says are being hit hard by taxes, and now face rising business licence costs.
The new proposed schedule of fees would rise dramatically in some sectors – from $520 to $1,500 for liquor primary businesses, and has already been criticized by business leaders.
“I strongly request that you reconsider this proposal,” said Kurl.
She told the committee that businesses are being hit with numerous expenses. The transition from the HST back to the PST will cost an estimated $3,000 on average, the Family Day holiday will add an average of $1,135 in labour costs, and in May the minimum wage rose to $10.25 per hour.
“The costs of doing business are starting to become unsustainable,” she said.
Kurl added that rising hydro and other utility costs, as well as the carbon tax, are other increases businesses have faced in recent years.
“All of this is coming out of the same till.”
She said the fee increase is also an issue of perception – whether Abbotsford is seen as “business friendly.”
“I myself was a bit alarmed when I saw what was being proposed,” said Coun. Henry Braun.
Coun. John Smith asked Jay Teichroeb, general manager of economic development and planning services, whether there was any service rendered for the licence fee, or “Is this pure taxation – an opportunity to stick it to the business sector?”
Teichroeb said staff is considering ways to raise funds without increasing the tax rate.
He noted 90 per cent of businesses pay a standard licence fee, which will rise from $120 to $140 under the proposed changes.
Overall, the business licence fees collected will rise 18 per cent since the last hike.
Studying business licence schedules in other nearby municipalities, city staff added new categories, including a $3,000 annual pipeline fee that will be paid by Kinder Morgan for the Trans Mountain Pipeline, and a $140 automated teller fee for cash machines at outlets such as convenience stores. The former bingo hall licence was $240, but it will rise to $500 in recognition that community gaming centres are more sophisticated operations. Real estate licences will increase from $120 to $500 per year.
Teichroeb will review and refine the fees based on comments from committee members, and bring adjustments back to the table next month.
Having heard Teichroeb’s explanation, Kurl said she remained concerned.
“Governments have a tendency to say ‘it’s just a little bit.’ A little bit, over time, adds up to a lot.”