Amherstburg council backtracks on new business licence fees

Amherstburg council backtracks on new business licence fees

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Amherstburg’s business licence bylaw will return in some form after the town suspended it last week when business owners objected to its fees and the lack of communication before it was passed Dec. 11. 

And the up to $15,000 already paid by businesses will be refunded, council decided at its March 25 meeting. 

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The fee — $350 initially and $300 for annual renewal for restaurants — includes a fee schedule for all businesses licensed by the town.  

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Following a presentation by Speck’s Restaurant owner Sarah Brush, councillors also backed off from passing a second bylaw that would have established a committee to oversee any issues arising from the original decision to charge the fees. 

“I am at a loss to understand the necessity of this bylaw,” Brush told council.

“In my opinion, there was no communication from the Town of Amherstburg to inform us businesses of this licensing prior to this bill.” 

Brush outlined a number of regular fees and charges she pays to run her businesses amounting to about $1,000.  

The new fees were originally intended to recover costs for town inspections of businesses, but Brush argued her restaurant is already inspected by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.  

Requesting that council rescind the new bylaw, she noted how restaurants and other businesses are still trying to recover from the COVID-19 restrictions and now face challenges of wage increases and inflation.

We did drop the ball here

Councillors agreed with Brush and admitted that communication of the proposed fee schedule should have been better.  

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“We passed this last time and I was pretty confident in my decision,” said Coun. Molly Allaire. “I was told it was to protect the residents and make sure businesses are in compliance.

“I thought I was approving it for all the right reasons. So I just want to say I was wrong. I don’t think it’s right. I don’t think it’s a good bylaw.”  

The town has had a business licence bylaw for many years, CAO Valerie Critchley explained to councillors. However, once the business licence was issued, no other actions were taken for follow-up as a condition of the licence, she said.  

A Nov. 23 report to council advocated for the new fees to pay for inspections of businesses, explaining that those inspections were creating a financial burden on the town, with costs not recouped.  

Business licence fees are common among other municipalities, council was told, though not all municipalities in Essex County have them.  

“This clearly wasn’t perfect,” said Coun. Don McArthur. “We’ve heard loud and clear from business owners in emails and walking down the street.  

“We passed this unanimously. Council needs to own it. Council needs to fix it.”  

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Still, some councillors said a business licence bylaw, in some form, should be enacted. 

“The business licensing bylaw does have merit,” said Coun. Linden Crain. However, feedback from business owners and the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce has been vocal, including suggestions that the fees be lowered, he said.  

Crain introduced a motion calling for public consultations and pausing collection of licensing fees.  

“We did drop the ball here,” said Coun. Peter Courtney, who seconded the motion.  

The original bylaw with the fee schedule was perhaps “done in a little haste but I think for all of the right reasons,” said Mayor Michael Prue.  

“I’m hoping that the new bylaw, when it comes back for us, is done correctly, and that we can justify the monies that are imposed upon business if indeed some of them need to be imposed as a way of protecting the people of the town.” 

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Brush said she will provide input into the bylaw once it’s brought back before council, adding she was not happy with the $350 fee.  

“I thought that I accomplished what I set out for, but I do realize that they’re going to relook at it,” she said in an interview. 

“They all admitted that there was a mistake, and you know what? It’s about working together.  

“I just want … to get the right message across with the right information. And I think that can all be done.” 

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