Nova Scotia

New details announced for support to N.S. businesses but operators say it's still not enough

Property tax rebates available to owners of tourism accommodations and small businesses, along with grant program for small businesses forced to shut down.

Applications now open for property tax rebate for tourism accommodation operators

Small businesses can claim up to 50 per cent rebate on their property taxes for the 2021-22 year, starting immediately. (Colleen Jones/CBC)

Some Nova Scotia entrepreneurs say supports for businesses announced Tuesday in response to the ongoing shutdown ordered to contain the spread of COVID-19 don't go far enough.

About $26 million total will be offered in the form of grants and property tax rebates.

Labi Kousoulis, the minister of inclusive economic growth, said in a news conference a previously announced property tax rebate for tourism accommodation operators is now open for applications.

This program provides qualified operators with a 50 per cent rebate on the first six months of commercial property tax paid in 2021-22. The province has allocated $7.3 million for that program, which is administered by Tourism Nova Scotia.

Bill Pratt owns 15 Habaneros and Cheese Curds restaurants in the city. (Colleen Jones/CBC)

Bill Pratt, who owns more than a dozen Habaneros and Cheese Curds restaurants, said it's a "big relief" the tax rebates are now open for applications, but his bottom line is still hurting.

This time last year, he qualified for a 75 per cent rent and wage subsidy. Last month, he qualified for 25 per cent.

"But we still have 100 per cent of bills — that's what people don't realize. We still have insurance, payments, lights, power, gas, and everything on top of that," he said.

Pratt said the supports announced Tuesday are focused on "here and now," but there's still more support needed for long-term recovery, including loan freezes and an extension on rent and wage subsidies.

In the city's North End, clothing store co-owner Zac Barkhouse agrees freezes on government-backed loans are a necessary next step.

Barkhouse said he is "frustrated and insulted" by Tuesday's announcement, especially because the eligibility requirements mean many small businesses get left out of certain grants and rebates. Because his store, Ana + Zac, is in the midst of a growth year, he's not sure he will qualify for the new $5,000 rebate. His business did not qualify last year.

Co-owner of Ana + Zac, Zac Barkhouse, said he's "frustrated and insulted" by today's announcement. (Colleen Jones/CBC)

"With expenses going up through the roof, it's tough to hear we're not going to be getting any more support," he said, adding the business signed a 10-year lease in February 2020 and has had rent increased seven times in the past year.

The province has set aside a further $7 million for another property tax rebate for small business owners affected by the shutdown such as gyms, hair salons, restaurants and bars. Applications for that rebate will open May 10. 

Eligible businesses can receive a one-time rebate of a portion of their paid property taxes. They can choose a rebate of $1,000 or 50 per cent of the commercial real property taxes paid for the final six months of the 2020-21 tax year.

A third program, which has been allocated $12 million, will provide grants for businesses directly affected by the latest shutdown. It will open for applications this week.

Eligible businesses will receive a one-time grant of 15 per cent of their sales revenue for the month of April 2019 or February 2020, up to a maximum of $5,000.

For businesses established after March 15, 2020, the grant amount will be calculated as 15 per cent of the sales revenue for any month from April 2020 to March 2021. The business can choose the month.

Barkhouse said the $5,000 is a blanket amount that can go toward anything, which only further illustrates how removed the government is from understanding what goes on behind the scenes to keep small businesses alive.

He said the government phone line for business support goes straight to voicemail, and he'd like the province to staff it with people who can deal with businesses in real time and listen to what they're going through.

"It's just disappointing to see where's not included or supported, or even have anybody that could pick up the phone," he said.

All non-essential businesses were ordered closed to everything except takeout for a two week period, which is halfway through. The closure affected restaurants, spas, hotels, gyms and several other types of businesses.

With files from Colleen Jones