The cost of doing business is about to go up to cover the cost of a Coast-wide crackdown on illegal vacation rentals.
As was reported in Nov. 23’s Westerly News, Tofino plans to double the business license fees it charges vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts in order to pay for increased enforcement on unlicensed accommodations.
Ucluelet now looks to be following suit and is planning a public meeting for January to bring locals up to speed on its plan to raise business license fees so that it can afford to extend the community’s summer bylaw enforcement program into a year-round service.
“It’s been, kind of, clear to us that we need to have a bylaw person year-round. With all the Airbnb conversations that are going on, and zonings, there’s a lot for a person to do; there’s no question,” Ucluelet mayor Dianne St. Jacques told the Westerly News.
“The business community benefits a lot from the bylaw program when it comes to unlicensed B and B’s and vacation rentals, and those types of things, and there’s a general feeling that we need to get better control of this before it runs away from us.”
Unlike Tofino’s plan, which specifically targets bed and breakfast and vacation rental fees, Ucluelet’s fees would be raised across all commercial sectors and St. Jacques said business owners are the appropriate pockets to draw from for increased enforcement.
“We have the option of taxing for it of course, and those types of things, and it appeared to us that it would be fair for the business community, through licensing, to participate in that bylaw program and the funding of it,” she said. “So, we’re looking at raising business licenses for that purpose.”
She said Ucluelet’s business owners have not seen their fees go up for 20 years and she hopes they’ll understand why an increase is needed now.
“I’m hopeful that they will be supportive,” she said. “But, of course, when there’s any change or increases put in place, there’s going to be questions about it and not everybody is going to be supportive of it. I totally get that.”
She added there is room to increase fees while still offering a competitive and attractive business environment.
“They won’t be off the charts by any means. We haven’t had a raise for 20 years so we are a bit behind,” she said. “A lot of businesses licenses are in the $125 range; we’re looking at putting them up maybe to the $300 range. So, it’s still affordable and it’s going towards a cause that will make our community even better than it is.”
She said the new fees, if adopted, would be effective immediately and the district would hold off on issuing licenses in the new year until the numbers have been hashed out at January’s meeting.
“We want to get it done in January because, with making these changes, we’re behind in our process. Obviously, business licenses are from Jan. 1, so it will be as soon as possible,” she said adding the timing is not ideal but the process crashed into the district office’s Christmas holidays.
“We’ve run out of time.”
She added council felt it was important to engage with locals before upping their fees in 2017, rather than blindside business owners with new rates out of the gate.
“We wanted to do that in order to get some dialogue going in the business community so that it doesn’t just come out of the blue as a big surprise,” she said.
“Let’s talk about the program to the folks and get some final input before we make a final decision and put this in place.”