Nanaimo’s pubs, bars and nightclubs are getting a break on business licence fees this year.
On Monday, Nanaimo city council voted unanimously in favour of a motion put forward by Coun. Sheryl Armstrong to reduce the cost of a business licence for liquor-primary establishments from $1,100 to $165 – the annual business licence fee for most other businesses – for 2021.
The higher fee paid by pubs, night clubs and other establishments that rely on liquor sales as their primary trade covers additional costs for police and city bylaws services associated with those businesses.
“The rationale behind that is to offset the cost of the Bar Watch program and policing officers and overtime, which isn’t happening right now,” Armstrong said. “Basically they’re running the same as a restaurant, so I believe they should be paying the same fees as a restaurant and that’s only for the year 2021 until we can reassess COVID.”
Coun. Ian Thorpe questioned lowering the licence fees, fearing the possibility that establishments currently enrolled in Bar Watch might opt out permanently when COVID restrictions are lifted.
“Hopefully, by the end of this calendar year, things might return to some semblance of normal where we might, in fact want the Bar Watch program operating again, because in my opinion, it’s something very valuable and I’d hate to lose it,” Thorpe said. “So, by basically saying to liquor establishments you can bail out of this now, I fear that we might have trouble getting them back into it later.”
Armstrong, a former RCMP sergeant in Nanaimo, explained that the Bar Watch program is staffed by RCMP officers, who are called in to patrol liquor establishments and are paid overtime wage rates to do so. The program, not currently operating, ran mostly in the downtown core.
Armstrong said family restaurants and bars are providing the same service during the pandemic, though the latter has continued to pay the higher business licence fees.
“They’ve had to lay off 50 per cent of their staff, they’re at less than 50 per cent of their capacity, then the government came in without any notice, shut down their New Year’s operations, which cost them a lot of money,” Armstrong said. “They don’t even know what’s going to happen with Super Bowl Sunday yet, so I just thought … that this was a way to help offset some of the costs for them.”
Other Nanaimo businesses that pay higher annual business licence fees include banks, at $1,100, and casinos and escort agencies and massage parlours, which pay $3,000 a year for business licences. Child care businesses, at $50, are at the other end of Nanaimo’s annual business licence fee schedule.
The loss of revenue to the city from temporarily lowering the licence fee was estimated at the meeting at about $27,000.