Edmonton businesses calling for further financial support to recover from COVID-19 pandemic, council to consider offsetting $1.9M of BIA tax levies

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Edmonton businesses are calling for further financial support from the city as they continue to struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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During a presentation Monday, Edmonton Business Improvement Area (BIA) Council chairwoman Cherie Klassen called on city council to cover 50 per cent of the 2022 BIA tax levies paid by businesses who belong to one of the 13 BIAs across the city.

The levies are collected annually by BIAs from member businesses in order to fund its initiatives and operations and fund most of the annual operating budgets. The proposed tax levy total is about $3.8 million, ranging from $80,000 to $1.3 million for the individual BIAs. If the city were to cover half of the overall levy, it would cost $1.9 million. For this year, council opted to cover the entire $3.4-million levy total .

Noting that a full waiving of the fees would be difficult due to budget constraints, Klassen said a 50 per cent offset would go a long way in supporting businesses. The 2022 BIA levy total is an increase of about 12 per cent from 2021.

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“The financial benefit goes directly to our businesses to provide financial relief. Our businesses are making commitments to growth and to stay open and they are willing to pay 50 per cent of the levy, even though they are continuing to struggle,” Klassen said. “The COVID-19 impacts are still very real for our businesses and this investment is vital as one step toward economic recovery.”

A funding source would need to be secured by council during next week’s budget decisions to provide $1.8 million to the program, which city manager Andre Corbould said could come from the remaining $8 million in the COVID-19 reserve.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said businesses have been resilient throughout the lengthy pandemic and this support can show the city stands behind them in helping their recovery.

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“The resiliency of our small and medium-sized businesses has been really tested during COVID-19 and there has been a lot of struggle out there. The leadership that BIAs have provided during this difficult time is really appreciated,” he said.

Downtown needs

Separate from the support for businesses through the BIA levy reduction, Downtown businesses are seeking aid from the city in recovering from the pandemic impacts.

Downtown Business Association executive director Puneeta McBryan said more money to fund recovery initiatives would be great, but understanding the tight budget, they would first like to see a larger allocation of operational and maintenance resources in the core.

“We need more city resources to be directly allocated to Downtown parks, Downtown sidewalks, roads, everything from maintenance to cleaning to just general operations,” she said. “Our focus right now is working with the city to make sure that Downtown has the allocation of existing city resources that it needs for the fact that it is the most densely populated.”

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Edmonton’s Downtown Recovery Task Force, made up of several Downtown leaders including McBryan, wrote a letter to city council calling for enhanced safety and security as well as up to $23 million in funding to support the council-approved Downtown Vibrancy Strategy. The strategy, approved by council in June, has already  received $5 million from the city. The task force is also calling for an extension to the construction grant program which incentivized development in the city’s core this year.

Council’s budget discussion will continue Wednesday with a presentation from the Edmonton Police Commission.

duscook@postmedia.com

twitter.com/dustin_cook3

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