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Westlock County contemplating business licence program

More discussion expected at municipality’s October GPC meeting
WES - County office Oct 2021 IMG-9067

WESTLOCK – Westlock County councillors have started formal talks to introduce a business licence program for the municipality, with administration slated to bring back a concrete proposal next month.

At their Sept. 20 governance and priorities (GPC) meeting, councillors spent more than 30 minutes debating not only the merits of business licences and the associated marketing they’d be able to do by collecting that information, but whether there should be a charge attached or if it would be a voluntary or mandatory program.

Ultimately, councilllors voted 6-0 (Coun. Francis Cloutier was absent) to accept a 12-page report from administration, that also included a draft business licence bylaw and detailed what neighbouring rural municipalities are doing as far as licensing, with CAO Tony Kulbisky vowing to bring back more information to the Oct. 18 GPC meeting.

In his briefing to council, Kulbisky notes the county currently acknowledges business operations by way of development permits, although once those are issued, there is no way to track whether those businesses are still around. Currently the county is assessing 73 improved commercial properties, 10 season commercial properties and 96 improved industrial properties.

While the Town of Westlock has a business licence program, most of the county’s rural neighbours like the County of Barrhead, Sturgeon County and Thorhild County don’t require business licences, just development permits. At the county’s Feb. 8 meeting, Community Futures Tawatinaw general manager Kelly Harris-Martin encouraged councillors to implement some form of a business licence program to catalogue what exists within the municipality as “ … it’s extremely hard to help our local businesses when you don’t know where they are.”

Reeve Christine Wiese went on to note that a lot of federal and provincial grants are data driven “so this would give us a more accurate understanding of what businesses are in our county.”

“We don’t know who our businesses are and not having that data leaves us open,” said Wiese.

“Aligning with the Town of Westlock is important. Some of our county businesses are needing to do work in the town, so I think as a region it’s a good idea. If they weren’t doing it, I think I’d have a different feeling about it,” added Coun. Jared Stitsen.

Kulbisky, along with the majority of councillors, agreed that a business licence program isn’t meant to generate a windfall or create more red tape, but “to support business while providing as many benefits to the business as possible … ” Councillors bandied about figures for a yearly licence from free, to $1 or even $50.

“Honestly if we’re going to charge anything, it should be a dollar. I think this is more for our use to get our businesses out there,” said Coun. Isaac Skuban. “There’s a lot of side businesses in the country and it would be nice to have those in a place where they can grow and get their name out there.”

“In my opinion I don’t think it’s about making money as a secondary revenue source, it’s about addressing the needs of the businesses in our county so that ones that actually need a business licence would be provided that opportunity,” added Kulbisky, noting the cost for implementing the program could be low depending on how it was implemented.

“The vision I see is that we want to make this as easy as possible for a business to join so we can populate the business directory. We can design a website application where it makes it easy for someone who actually needs a paper businesses licence. They can fill in all the information and then could print it off at their own office … it’s not meant for them to have to come all the way in here to get a certificate.”

Councillors by and large agreed with the administration that the program could provide “tremendous value” to aid in business attraction, retention, and expansion activities. “With an increased knowledge of existing local supply chains, an opportunity to connect Westlock County business to other local goods and services emerges,” reads the briefing.

The briefing goes on to state that a companion business registry could help with marketing and promotion, procurement opportunities, business education opportunities and networking.

“Residents don’t know all the great things we have. I think it’s important for residents to shop locally, but it’s hard to do that when they don’t even know what’s here. I think this is a great way forward for our businesses and for our community members,” said Stitsen.

“There’s a lot of businesses in this county that we have no idea about. We were asked the question at the recent joint ec dev meeting, and we looked at each other and we really don’t know. And that’s not a good position to be in,” Kulbisky added.

While Coun. Stuart Fox-Robinson was “absolutely in favour of a business directory” and not against a business licence program he wondered if a voluntary program would work.

“I think it has to be voluntary, I don’t think we have the resources to do anything beyond that. I think businesses would soon see the benefits of it and want to be a part of it,” said Stitsen.

“I agree that it should be voluntary. Again, I don’t think it’s to make money for us, it’s to help them and help us understand who’s in our area so when we’re doing strategic planning, we can be focused on who we have here,” added Wiese.

George Blais, TownandCountryToday.com



George Blais

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