BANFF – Banff’s elected officials have approved an updated business licence bylaw in one fell swoop.
On a 4-2 vote on Monday (July 12), town council approved administration’s recommendations for minor housekeeping changes to the bylaw, which provides the legislative vehicle to market Banff as a tourist destination.
But Councillor Peter Poole criticized what he saw as a lack of oversight by elected officials, noting the Town of Banff gives Banff Lake Louise Tourism (BLLT) about $7 million a year under a contract.
“I feel like this is a situation where a huge tax amount is being pushed right through us without council’s oversight and that doesn’t feel right from a governance perspective,” he said.
“I think destination marketing is absolutely important, but I think the issue is one of magnitude and fairness and are there any other alternatives than the current way we’re doing this.”
The business licence bylaw regulates business operations within the municipality, ensures business activity is consistent with higher-level policies and legislation – and has provided a legislative vehicle to market the tourist town since 1991.
The primary mechanism for this is Schedule B, which is a fee for various business sectors like hotels, retail and restaurants that flows through the Town of Banff to BLLT for destination marketing purposes.
The Town of Banff collected about $7.2 million in business licence fees in 2019, of which $236,000 represented the base fee retained by the Town of Banff.
The Town currently has a six-year contract with BLTT that commenced on Jan. 1, 2017 and will be renewed on Jan, 1, 2023 for a further six-year term unless a decision is made to no longer collect Schedule B fees.
Poole said the business licence bylaw should be referred to the governance and finance committee – like administration recommended for most other bylaws under review this past term – for a more in-depth discussion.
He said council has a fiduciary responsibility over a $7 million purse.
“We collect about $7 million through this bylaw for the tourism bureau, and at the same time in our council budget deliberations, we skimp on choices of one per cent of that amount,” he said.
“We are acting as if we have no governance over and we’re entirely dependent upon the administration’s negotiations with the tourism bureau, and frankly, I find that a failure of governance.”
Town Manager Kelly Gibson said the contract with BLLT does go before council every six years. He noted Banff’s fees and charges bylaw also goes through governance and finance every year, which includes Schedule B fees.
“Administration does come back to council, and so if council have issues with that contract they have the ability to effect that change at that point in time,” Gibson said.
“As far as the bylaw coming directly back to council, administration isn’t recommending any significant changes other than a debate over licensing predominantly and how it’s spelt, ‘ he added.
“But if council feels there’s significant areas of review to be had here, we can happily reschedule this back to governance and finance if there are areas you would like to discuss and understand better.”
There was complete silence on the matter from councillors Corrie DiManno, Brian Standish and Grant Canning. Coun. Chip Olver was absent from meeting and Coun. Christensen threw his support behind Poole.
Mayor Karen Sorensen said she respected the fact first-term Coun. Poole was not on council when the six-year contract with BLLT was last discussed, but six of the seven existing council members did review it.
“A majority of council certainly did participate at the time and didn’t see a need for significant change,” she said. “I intend to support this bylaw.”
Banff’s business licence bylaw has remained relatively unchanged since 2006.
Poole maintained he was startled there was no additional discussions.
“The only big recommendations is whether we change an ’s’ to ‘c’ in the word licence,” he said. “For $7 million, we can do better.”
Other updates to the bylaw include an escalation of fines for non-compliance with the bylaw, including an increase from $500 to $2,000 for operating without a business licence.
“It’s primarily to keep up with the cost of inflation,” said Darren Enns, the Town of Banff’s director of planning and development.
In addition to correction on grammatical and spelling errors, the bylaw redefines conditions for establishing the bylaw’s applicability, notably around advertising. Enns said the existing bylaw applies to any business advertising in Banff, which is an extremely broad definition.
“The new definition allows for interpretation on whether or not that business is conducting, or intends to actively conduct business in the townsite,” he said.