By Joel van der Veen
DAVIDSON — Feedback from the public has prompted Davidson councillors to revisit the town’s new business licensing bylaw.
The bylaw, which was approved in November and took effect Jan. 1, required all people conducting business in the Town of Davidson — whether door-to-door, from a storefront on Main Street or from their basement — to purchase a license on an annual basis.
At their regular meeting on Tuesday, town council agreed unanimously to amend the bylaw to exempt business owners who pay commercial property taxes within the Town of Davidson.
Bylaw 778, known as the “Business Licensing Bylaw,” had received some criticism from business owners.
Several town councillors reported that they had been approached with questions and complaints, particularly in regards to businesses that already pay tax here.
“We’re doubling up on those people,” said Coun. Gord Cross, whose motion to revise the bylaw was seconded by Coun. Todd Lockwood and carried.
The bylaw requires that the owners of storefront businesses purchase a license at a cost of $100 — but those who pay commercial property taxes within town are now exempt from this.
The bylaw’s other requirements for various types of businesses remain in effect.
Home-based businesses must purchase a license at a cost of $50 per year. Self-employed contractors must pay $100 for their licenses, while contractors with employees will be charged $250.
Transient traders and direct sellers must also purchase licenses to carry on business in town, at $100 per year.
A pamphlet produced by the town said the bylaw is intended “to regulate businesses, ensure compliance with land use and building regulations, gather land use information and facilitate planning decisions.”
The bylaw was published in December on the town website, along with a pamphlet and registration form, but as of yet there has not been any direct communication from the town to local business owners.
Mayor Tyler Alexander said he had heard a few suggestions for revising the bylaw, but he believed council’s choice was the simplest way to go forward.
Coun. Todd Lockwood said business owners who already paid taxes seemed to be annoyed at being charged an additional fee.
While the fee itself was modest, Lockwood said, “It’s the principle of it.”
Coun. Jared Shaw said several people questioned the purpose of the bylaw, suggesting that better communication and education were needed.
“I think we have to have some very key points and explain them to everyone,” said Shaw.
A brief discussion followed among council members about the original intent behind the bylaw.
Coun. Jessica Foster said she had checked her notes from last May, when council had initially discussed the bylaw, and reported that they had talked about specifically targeting business owners who weren’t paying commercial tax.
At the time, discussions indicated that the bylaw would allow the town to monitor the businesses operating in Davidson, for promotional and regulatory purposes.
“It’s a way to build transparency,” said Coun. Gene Stangland, also acknowledging that the bylaw would provide some protection for existing local businesses.
Some travelling vendors, such as the fish and fruit trucks that visit Davidson occasionally, are in direct competition with established businesses here, while requiring them to hold a license evens the playing field somewhat.
Stangland also said the town is not out to penalize people with small sidelines or hobbies that turn an occasional profit: “It’s not for the lady that’s knitting socks.”
Coun. Todd Lockwood said there was some confusion about how the fees collected would be used, noting that the money won’t go into general revenue.
“They’re mad (because) they see it as another tax,” he said. “That’s not the intent at all.”
The town has plans to eventually expand the business directory on its website, allowing for more detailed listings.
Stangland said fees could also be used towards business development initiatives.
Coun. Arlene Low suggested that the town could set up electronic registration on its website, making it easier for business owners to purchase licenses.
Foster said the pamphlet, available on the town website, should be revised to include some of the points made during Tuesday’s meeting, and to reflect the new exemption.
With all councillors in favour, the amendment received an accelerated three readings, to take effect immediately.
Town staff reported that in the first two weeks of January, a total of three business owners came in to purchase licenses.
Office clerk Della Siroski, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said this included two home-based businesses and one transient trader.
She said she spoke to the latter, who told her Davidson’s license fee was modest compared to what some municipalities are charging.
None of the storefront business owners had purchased a license.
Debbie Doell, who owns and operates Golden Image Jewelry on Washington Avenue, had been critical of the bylaw, saying it penalized her and other business owners.
She said she was not opposed to business licenses in general, but she was upset at having to pay another fee when she already pays commercial property tax each year.
Speaking to the Leader on Thursday, she said she was pleased to hear that council had acknowledged and addressed these concerns.
“I’m happy at their decision, and I appreciate it,” said Doell.
The question of enforcement was not raised at Tuesday’s meeting.
In December the town renewed its agreement with bylaw enforcement officer Ron Klassen. Part of the contract with Klassen states that his obligation is “to enforce all of the existing and/or future bylaws,” which presumably would include this bylaw as well.