New bylaw surprises business owners

Pictured is Davidson’s town hall.

By Joel van der Veen

DAVIDSON — After more than three decades in business, Debbie Doell figures she’s paid her fair share of bills.

As the owner of Golden Image Jewelry, she has a wide range of expenses to cover.

Besides the cost of inventory, she pays for utilities, insurance and security services, as well as wages for herself and two casual employees.

As the owner of her building on Davidson’s Washington Avenue, she’s also on the hook for commercial property taxes — roughly $2,500 a year.

Doell learned last week that she’ll soon receive another bill from the Town of Davidson: $100 for a mandatory business license.

A new bylaw, which took effect Jan. 1, requires all businesses in Davidson — whether they’re located in the business district, the industrial park or in somebody’s basement — to purchase a license on an annual basis.

Doell said she’s upset at what she views as a penalty against herself and other business owners.

“You shouldn’t be penalizing the mortar-and-brick businesses,” she said. “They should be finding ways to encourage us and keep us going.”

Business owners in Davidson are reacting with some surprise to Bylaw 778, also known as the “Business Licensing Bylaw.”

Town council approved the draft at its Nov. 21 meeting. A single vote paved the way for the draft to become law, taking effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

Storefront businesses are required to purchase a license at a cost of $100, while home-based businesses — ranging from accountants to travel agents — will be charged $50.

Self-employed contractors will pay $100 a year for licenses, while contractors with employees will be charged $250.

Visiting salespeople will also be required to purchase licenses. Both transient traders and direct sellers — those selling over the phone or door-to-door — will be charged $100.

According to a town pamphlet, the bylaw is intended “to regulate businesses, ensure compliance with land use and building regulations, gather land use information and facilitate planning decisions.”

The town also plans to expand and update the business directory on its website, which in the future will only include licensed businesses.

Decades ago, Davidson required businesses to purchase licenses.

Bylaw 352, which included a schedule of fees for everything from menagerie keepers to pinball machines, was approved in 1981 and remained on the books long after the town had stopped enforcing it. (It was repealed with the passing of Bylaw 778.)

Later, those requirements were relaxed, as the commercial taxes paid by business owners were deemed sufficient.

Last May, council requested that town staff prepare a draft of a business license bylaw.

Discussions at the time indicated that council wanted to target businesses whose owners did not pay commercial taxes. A bylaw would regulate those businesses while also enabling the town to promote them through its website and other means.

Assistant administrator Donna Bessey, who wrote the draft, declined an interview request last week, while Mayor Tyler Alexander could not be reached for comment.

Administrator Gary Edom declined to discuss the bylaw in detail, saying council was still working out the details of its implementation.

Asked if anyone had purchased a license since the bylaw took effect, he said, “Not that I’m aware of.”

Coun. Todd Lockwood, who spoke briefly to the Leader, said some questions remained unanswered and that further clarification was needed.

He said council would discuss the bylaw at its next monthly meeting, scheduled for Jan. 16 at 7 p.m.

Mixed response from business owners

Last week, the Leader surveyed 10 local business owners to gauge their awareness of the new bylaw, as well as their reactions to it.

The bylaw was posted on the town website in mid-December, along with a registration form and a pamphlet.

Of the 10 respondents, only one had seen this pamphlet prior to being contacted by the Leader.

Most of the others knew that council was considering such a bylaw, either through press coverage or from discussion on social media and coffee row.

However, most did not realize that the bylaw had already been passed and gone into effect.

Only one reported being consulted by a town councillor on the matter, and none of them had received any direct word about the approved bylaw.

Reactions to the bylaw were varied. Some business owners were clearly annoyed at the news, while others were indifferent.

Some remarked on the apparent lack of consultation or communication on the town’s part.

Most of those surveyed had similar questions: Why was council taking this step? What will the town do with the fees collected? How would the bylaw be enforced?

Trish Schilling, who co-owns Napa Auto Parts with her husband Clayton, said she perused the bylaw on the town website and had no strong opinion about it, though she wasn’t sure of its purpose or intent.

“We probably pay enough taxes,” she remarked. “Where is this hundred dollars going to?”

Jason Shaw, who operates Shaw Agencies with his mother Vanna Gay Shaw, wasn’t overly concerned about the bylaw’s impact.

“I wouldn’t think $100 is going to make or break a business,” he said, adding that he’s OK with it “if it’s something town council has decided is important to have, I guess.”

Bill Northrop, owner of Railway Automotive, said he had mixed feelings, but understood that the town needs to generate revenue.

“It costs money to run a town,” he said. “You’ve got to come up with it somehow.”

John Sperling, who opened JMR Meats in Craik in 1983 and moved his shop to Davidson in 1998, said he wanted to know the reason behind the new requirement.

“Just doing it is not going enough,” he said, adding that he was open to paying the fee “as long as they have a need and they let us know what the need is.”

One local contractor, who spoke to the Leader on condition of anonymity, said the price for a license seemed reasonable.

“A hundred bucks ain’t so bad,” they said. “I’m not paying it till they come looking for me, though.”

Kelly Frier, who owns and operates Frier Agencies, said he agreed with the need to regulate trade in town, but didn’t see why established businesses like his — opened by his father Lorne in 1972 — should be charged an annual fee.

“I’m not really keen on that,” he said. “We’ve paid our taxes over the years . . . Why jolt us another hundred bucks?”

Doell said the town should be encouraging people to set up shop in the commercial district, but she believes the bylaw will have the opposite effect.

In contrast, home-based businesses — some of which compete directly with her — can avoid many of the overhead costs associated with a storefront business. Doell said this gives them an unfair advantage.

“We have three cities we compete against . . . that’s hard enough,” she said, adding that with the advent of online shopping, she and others are also competing with businesses the world over.

She was in favour of requiring home-based business owners to obtain licenses, to help regulate and legitimize them.

Doell said she and other business owners contribute to the town in multiple ways, first by paying taxes. Local groups often solicit donations from them, and their support has been crucial for major projects like the swimming pool, as well as ongoing needs.

The services they provide also make the town more attractive to prospective new residents.

The Davidson and District Business Association disbanded seven years ago due to lack of interest. Doell said perhaps it’s time for better mutual co-operation.

“We need to stand up for ourselves and start saying no,” she said. “If we all die out, where are you going to go?”

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