Edmonton considers slashing licensing, new COVID-19 grants for businesses
Grant program looks to simplicity for quick response, councillor says
Edmonton city council will consider cutting licensing fees in half and offering thousands of dollars in grants to businesses struggling through the pandemic.
It's the latest proposal put forward by the city in an effort to buoy the local economy after property taxes were delayed, rent was deferred for some tenants at city-owned buildings and patio regulations were relaxed.
Under a proposal headed before city council on Monday, the city would offer a 50 per cent reduction in business licensing fees by request until the end of the year. If approved, the move is expected to cost the city $3.1 million in lost revenue in 2020, according to the report.
During spring budget talks in April, The city projected it would lose $5.6 million in licensing fees this year given an expected slowdown in new businesses, while others shuttered. But so far, the city has not seen a significant decline in licensing activity, the report notes. Even if the city cut fees in half, it would amount to less than the $5.6 million outlined in the spring supplementary budget.
But licences are a nominal cost for most business owners, especially given the broad financial upheaval prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The licences, renewed every year, range from $45 for non-profits up to $3,214 for casinos. The vast majority are $244.
"While any bit certainly helps it's kind of a minor amount and I'm not sure it will have any real impact in terms of businesses," said Mark Wilson, co-owner of Vivid Print, a local printing business.
The report notes that businesses have raised a number of issues as they weather the COVID-19 crisis. Some landlords have not been passing along property tax deferral savings to tenants through reduced rents, personal protective equipment is in short supply and capacity limits imposed under public health orders make it hard to break even.
Other landlords didn't apply to the Canada Commercial Rent Assistance Program, which could have saved business tenants at least 75 per cent in payments.
To help businesses tailor their operations to life under COVID-19, the city is proposing a two-stream economic recovery grant. The grant would draw roughly $500,000 in uncommitted money from the development incentive grant, an existing program that incentivizes property owners to invest in higher density developments.
City considers $500k grant program
Under the first grant stream, businesses could apply for matching funds in the range of $1,000 to $25,000 to help them change their services or product delivery to follow COVID-19 guidelines. About 40 per cent of the grant money would be delivered during this phase of the program, running from early June to the end of 2020.
The city would give particular consideration to businesses that meet some of the eight criteria set out by the program, including the potential to rehire staff or its contribution to "mainstreet vibrancy".
It could help Vivid Print, says Wilson, as they reimagine their online services during the pandemic and purchase personal protective equipment for their staff.
"Anything that's going to aid businesses in adapting their current business model to the new situation we've been faced with will certainly be welcome," he said.
The grant's criteria are broad. But Coun. Andrew Knack says it's about ensuring the grant process is simple and quickly responds to different needs across the economy.
"These business owners don't have the time right now to write a long grant proposal," he said.
"There's a bit of the honour system here to say, let's make sure those who need this are getting this. Let's not make it hard to access this so people can focus their time and attention on making sure their employees are safe, their customers are safe and they're back operating."
Under the second grant stream, a business could apply for $10,000 to $75,000 to put toward a long-term development activity that aligns with the program criteria. It's anticipated this phase of the program would run throughout 2021 and account for the remaining 60 per cent of the available grant money.
These business owners don't have time right now to write long grant proposals- Councillor Andrew Knack, Ward 1
Knack says he recognizes that for some businesses the economic recovery plan will be a modest boost amid significant setbacks, but he noted it's also up to the provincial and federal governments to continue putting their larger tax revenues toward the recovery.
"Our proportion will be smaller," he said. "I still think it's something that businesses will need based on what's happening across most industries."
The report notes other steps taken by the city include some licensing requirements and opening an email portal for businesses to ask questions related to COVID-19.
City council will review the grant and business licensing proposals at a meeting on Monday.