Small business owners skewer North Cowichan budget shift

Cam Drew of Thermoproof Windows led the charge at North Cowichan’s May 6 council meeting as business owners tried to get councillors to draw back from a plan to burden business in order to give homeowners a bit of tax relief.

"If it is the goal of council to download the burden to light industry, congratulations, you’ve already done it," he said, explaining that his light industrial operation, which employees 27 people and has a payroll of more than $1 million per year is already paying five times the rate paid by the residential class.

When he first got into the business in 2007, the taxes were $17,000 but in one year they went up 58 per cent, Drew said, explaining further that each year his company offers employees a profit share and increasing taxes means that his workers take home less as a result.

Martin Buck, owner of the Thunderbird Inn and the York Street Diner, said that three years ago he bought "a broken business" and has since built both pieces up so that he now employs a combined total of 25 people.

But, while working hard, he’s been hit by stunning tax increases, sharing that taxes of $19,000 in 2013 had risen to $24,000 by 2014.

"That’s a whopping 32 per cent in one year," Buck said, urging council to look at the example of such municipalities as Westshore that are really encouraging business.

Brad Grigor of the Chemainus Chamber of Commerce began by telling council, "a tax increase for a business is not a write-off. It erodes profitability and that profit is the only take-home pay for the owner."

He also said that profitable local businesses spend money locally and are also local homeowners so they get hit twice by North Cowichan taxes.

George Gates, another business owner, said, "I’m questioning the message you’re sending to business."

He pointed out that previous councils had a plan that sent a "very progressive message" to anyone looking to open a business.

Now, with council apparently backtracking on that overall idea, "I may not be able to trust you after this vote," he said. "This shows you’re not on board with that plan. I’m concerned."

Ruth Hartmann spoke on behalf of Julie Scurr, Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce president, who was unable to attend, saying that the 460 members of the group were also concerned about what message North Cowichan is sending to the business community. Finally, she said that on a personal note, "I sincerely hope the decision is not based on personal agendas."

Georg Wörnle, accountant for Canadian Bavarian Millwork, said that his family-owned operation employs 25 people and also has a payroll of about $1 million.

Looking at taxes of $45,000 two years ago, he said he saw the company was shouldering a considerable burden as it was struggling to hang onto its employees during the recession so that people could stay in the Valley rather than having to head out to the oil patch for work.

"But we had a 90 per cent increase in our tax burden," he said.

Canadian Bavarian moved to North Cowichan from Polkey Road and could potentially move again if they found a location where the taxes were significantly less, he said.

Another option for him is that of outsourcing much of the light industrial work so that the North Cowichan site could be commercially zoned, would mean job cuts locally.

"There are jurisdictions that are not that far away where the tax rates are less," he said.

Clive Coles of Beverly Corners Marketplace urged councillors to make more effort to get municipal finances in line with national targets because projected tax increases over the next few years are way above the rate of inflation.

"You need to re-look at what your intentions are," Coles said.

He also urged council to note that "Nanaimo just froze their tax rate at one per cent."

Recently retired business owner Peter Brady told council he attended all the all-candidates meetings held in the run-up to last fall’s election where everyone promised they would be fiscally responsible.

He said that councillors must take thought for pensioners on fixed incomes.

"Businesses at least have a chance to make a profit. I don’t," he said.

Brady’s way of being fiscally responsible is to pare down what’s in the budget, cutting costs and projects rather than increasing taxes.