Flags fly outside Yellowknife City Hall on September 30, 2019. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
The City of Yellowknife is poised to continue offering business licences for free to companies who have been affected by the pandemic and, more recently, the summer’s wildfires and evacuation.
For the past two years, businesses in certain sectors have had their $200 licence renewal fee waived using part of a $700,000 federal grant initially given to the city as Covid-19 restart funding.
The rules require that companies have 20 or fewer employees and limit recipients to those operating in food, retail, tourism, arts and entertainment, personal care or recreation, or those run as home-based businesses.
On Monday, councillors expressed broad support for extending the program into a third and final year. The city has $22,000 in Covid-19 restart funding left to use, meaning similar rules are likely to remain as there’s not nearly enough money to cover the fees for all firms in Yellowknife.
In 2021-22, 101 businesses applied to have their licence fee waived. In 2022-23 that dropped to just 40, meaning the city only spent $8,000 on the program that year.
“It’s about ensuring businesses are aware of the ability to apply to have their business licence fee waived,” said city economic development director Kerry Thistle at Monday’s meeting.
“I’m hoping the ones that have previously applied under this will continue to apply, and then what we can do is ensure there’s some more engagement, or communication, so that more businesses are aware of the actual program.
“I’d caution against opening it up entirely because we definitely don’t have the budget. We’d need more money for that.”
City staff said businesses had pleaded with officials for more help during a September meeting at the Javaroma coffee shop.
While many requests at that meeting were aimed at the territorial government, city manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett said, firms had pointed out the municipal licence fee – while comparatively small, at $200 – “is yet another cost that small businesses bear.”
Referring to the drop in applicants over the past year, she added: “We could very well see that there is more uptake, given more businesses being hit by the wildfire – and more information being provided and proactively sent out to them, so that they actually know that this exists.”