Commercial tax worries are deadly serious for local businesses

David F. Rooney

Anyone who thinks local businesses are overstating the case against high commercial property taxes should wake up and smell the coffee. The anxieties of Revelstoke’s small business community are real and the threat that some may fold because of the pressure they exert is patently  obvious, judging by the comments made by business owners surveyed by the Chamber of Commerce.

The survey, as described in a Revelstoke Current story on November 19, was sent to Chamber members. Twenty-six businesses responded and the comments of their owners are grim.

Neil Jones, owner of Trans Canada Fitness, said he has had to layoff staff due to a 50 per cent tax hike. Kim Remesz of Ambrosia Day Spa & Salon said she, too, had to layoff staff. Another tax increase next year will force her out of business.

Steve VanDerMeer of SPM Landscape Contractors Ltd. said in a letter to Council that was attached to his survey that “when I had to come up with an additional $11,000 in commercial taxes this year I started to question how concerned my mayor and councillors (were) for the health of the commercial and industrial sector. To my dismay, I have found there seems to be no concern or interest…”

Louis Brown of Peterson Sawmills said a “600 per cent increase in six years — get real.”

At Crescendo, the popular premium oil and vinegar business that opened last year, owners Elvira Brunner and Daniel Weber said taxes eat up so much of their income that they “can’t hire staff or even get a wage” for themselves. If the situation doesn’t change next year they said they’ll sell their store and move to another town.

The taxes being paid are astronomical, particularly when you consider the size of the town and the sales base local businesses cater to.

“I have a 23-foot frontage on Mackenzie Avenue,” says Arvid Zakary, who owns the Howson Building at the corner of Second Street and Mackenzie, which is occupied by Wearabouts, Revelstoke Mountain Homes, the Refinery Day Spa and Salon and a lawyer’s office. “I am currently paying $23,000…”

Birgitte Sonnenberg at the Chalet Bakery said her taxes are so high she can;t afford to hire apprentice bakers. That, coupled with the HST has resulted in a 30 per cent decrease in sales.

The comments go on and on and should alarm anyone who believes the business community is crying wolf.

High taxes force business owners to jack up their prices, which in turn forces previously loyal customers to seek better prices out of town in places like Salmon Arm and Vernon where taxes are relatively low. As their customer base erodes our small, locally-owned businesses really do have to contemplate closing their doors forever. Who will sell goods and services here, then?

Many people have been worried that Walmart might one day find a way to set up shop here and eviscerate the local business community. The City scotched that possibility with a bylaw that puts a 50,000-square-foot ceiling on retail shopping space. Now, unless the high commercial tax rate is rolled back we may lose some of the very enterprises that give our business community some zest.

It’s no wonder that the Chamber of Commerce is demanding changes to the way the City is raising and spending money (click here to read the story on that demand). The big question now is: will any action by Council now be too little and too late?