Town council voted in favour of adopting a revised fee schedule to go along with its new business licensing bylaw during its regular meeting Monday night.
But not before some questions were raised by several people on hand, including Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce president Gary Rogozinski and Coun. Roy Avis.
Rogozinski said he wanted council to hold off on passing the fee schedule in order to give the public more time to offer input.
While it was announced in last Wednesday’s Times that the fee schedule would be the subject of a public meeting, it was not ready until late Friday afternoon and not posted on the town’s website prior to Monday night’s meeting.
“This did not leave adequate time to get important input from the people impacted directly—the area businesses,” Rogozinski told council Monday night.
“If the town’s goal is to be more open to the public, then the process for this public meeting does not support that goal,” he argued. “Additional time would be appreciated.”
Clerk Glenn Treftlin apologized for the lateness, adding he hoped to have it out earlier.
Rogozinski also felt a few areas needed “some clarification or substantiation.”
“For example, why are school bus drivers, who are providing a valuable service to the community, being charged with a business licence fee?” he wondered.
“A larger percentage of bus drivers live out of town close to their bus route.
“They may not have a business per se, but still have to pay an annual fee of $128,” Rogozinski noted. “There has to be exemptions to every rule and perhaps consideration for exemptions to services like school bus drivers.
“I think some more thought should be given on potential exemptions to the fee schedule,” he added.
Treftlin noted the bylaw is always up for council revision, and that with the bylaw in place, situations may arise that the town then will have to review.
Rogozinski also asked how the bylaw will be enforced to ensure a level playing field.
“Town officials need to ensure that businesses from outside the area pay their licence fee,” he said. “It is only a fair bylaw if all affected businesses are required to pay.
“It is unfair not to have contractors, taxis, or tow trucks from Thunder Bay or Winnipeg or International Falls pay an annual fee if they are doing business in the Town of Fort Frances,” he stressed.
“If all businesses are not treated the same, then it will be only a matter of time before local businesses refuse to the pay the required fees.”
“There’s nothing in place for the proper collection of those fees,” argued Coun. Avis. “If you haven’t got a proper mechanism in place to collect them, and you’re passing a bylaw that’s going to charge fees, that doesn’t make much sense.
“I’ve gotten calls from many contractors asking how is it going to be policed, who all is going to pay?” he added. “I think Mr. Rogozinski nailed it on the head—if a tow truck operator comes into town, how are you going to police him?
“A lot of national firms hire a contractor that does all their buildings across Canada, so how are we going to police that in Fort Frances?” continued Coun. Avis. “If they come in and do half-a-day, and they’re gone?”
He also noted some of the fees are as a low as $11—lower than the collection cost to the town—and thus simply wouldn’t be worthwhile to enforce.
Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig said the town has to get together with the bylaw enforcement department soon and develop short form wording, which would enable bylaw officers to hand out fines to those not in compliance with the business licensing bylaw.
He added the town also has to establish mechanisms to ensure equity between resident and non-resident operators.
Treftlin said council can pass the bylaw and then always revisit the fee schedule, or the initial business licensing bylaw for that matter, and make amendments in the future.
McCaig added a review of all user fees, including licensing fees, normally is part of the annual budget process.
The bylaw was passed by a vote of 5-2, with Couns. Avis and Tannis Drysdale opposed. The fees come into effect as of May 1, 2006.
Copies of this amended licensing fee schedule are available at the information counter at the Civic Centre.