Clearwater business licensing draws debate

Business licensing would allow District of Clearwater to know what goods and services are available

Requiring businesses operating within the boundaries of District of Clearwater to have business licenses would have a number of benefits, according to the municipality’s chief administrative officer, Leslie Groulx.

However, at least one business owner at a public information session held Nov. 17 in Dutch Lake Community Centre was skeptical that the benefits would exceed the costs.

Regulations require the municipality to do fire inspections of all buildings used by the public, Groulx said. At present, those are paid for by taxpayers. If there was business licensing, then that would pay for the service.

Business licensing would allow District of Clearwater to know what goods and services are available and help identify gaps.

It would allow the district to keep an up-to-date listing of all the businesses in town.

Groulx said she gets one to three inquires a month from people wanting to know what’s available. All that information could be put on-line for people to access from anywhere in the world.

Licensing would result in better information on where businesses are located, helping with zoning.

It would help certain businesses, such as massage therapists, prove that they are legitimate businesses.

Requiring business licenses would help level the playing field. For example, storefront mechanic shops need to meet stringent environmental requirements while those doing auto repairs in their backyard can often avoid them.

Similarly, street vendors pay no taxes while bricks and mortars stores do – but both sell the same items.

Business licensing could be part of a one-stop registration process with the provincial government, which would include signing up to collect GST and PST, and Workers Compensation, plus registration for proprietorships or partnerships.

It is standard practice in most other municipalities that the money raised through business licensing be used for economic development, Groulx said.

One possible way that could be accomplished would be for the money to go through the chamber of commerce, she said.

The proposed bylaw is quite a bit simpler than in many municipalities. With only 12 business categories, compared to 35 – 50 in other jurisdictions, it might need some adjustments, Groulx noted.

District of Barriere brought in business licensing almost immediately after incorporation, the chief administrative officer added.

Business owner Mark Salden was skeptical about the proposal.

“I don’t know any business owner who wants more regulation,” he said.

Requiring business licenses would just add one more cost onto local businesses that are competing with other businesses all around the world on the Internet, he said.

Fire inspections benefit the public and not the business owner directly, and so the public should pay.

Just the cost of administering the program would use up much of the money raised, Salden felt. There would be little left for economic development.

Many of the other business owners at the session appeared to be more receptive than Salden to the proposal.

Jon Kreke, president of Clearwater and District Chamber of Commerce, said business licensing would help protect the established businesses.

“You’re never going to stop the truck vendors but at least you’d have a handle on them,” he said.

He noted that in some municipalities, business licensing is tied to chamber membership. If you have a business license, you also have a chamber membership – and vice versa.

The information session was an opportunity for the District to let people know what is being planned and to get their feedback, said Mayor John Harwood.

Several more steps need to be taken before the business license bylaw would come into effect, which could be Feb. 1 of next year.