By Lethbridge Herald on April 6, 2020.
A quarter to as much as a full third of businesses in Lethbridge will likely not survive the month without immediate assistance from the provincial and federal governments.
This sobering news was delivered to city council during Monday’s meeting by Lethbridge Region Economic Recovery Task Force representatives Trevor Lewington and Cyndi Vos.
“What we’re hearing is what we are seeing in provincial surveys, and that is the impact will be both widespread and pretty significant,” Lewington said. “Businesses are first and foremost concerned with cashflow. Many of these businesses have seen sales of exactly zero dollars in the past few weeks and that is something that is likely to persist potentially for a few months.
“Getting support to business, getting cash in hand to pay their immediate bills, that’s really the first ask and the first priority.”
It’s extremely frustrating for local business owners who have no idea yet when or if these types of supports will be forthcoming in time to save their businesses, said Vos.
“We’re pinning hopes on things, and we’re not getting answers,” she explained. “We go and apply for something, and it says more information to come. There’s just a lot of confusion, which is understandable because this is all happening so quick. We need to have the cleanest and clearest information out in a timely manner.”
Lewington said while businesses are waiting on federal and provincial aid, there are some things the City can do to help alleviate some of the tension.
“We have asked the City to consider deferrals on property taxes; that’s a significant cost for many businesses,” he said. “Although a deferral is not a reduction, it’s a start.”
City council did pass a motion on Monday to allow businesses to defer payments on utilities and other financial fees, but there was no decision on property taxes as of yet.
Vos said the City was behind other jurisdictions in this regard and she hoped it would expedite its deliberations.
“I think what businesses in Lethbridge need is a date,” she said. “We need that hope as to when we are going to look at this, what does it look like. It would be good to know I could defer my tax payment, or only pay half of it, or know what is the plan I can put in place. Without knowing that out of the gate, we can’t put any plans in place.”
The Lethbridge Region Economic Recovery Task Force also recommended city council consider releasing Capital Improvement Project grant funding more quickly, prioritizing those projects which were shovel-ready and would have a greater economic impact on the community as a whole in the immediate future.
The Task Force also recommended the City consider putting together some kind of local stimulus package for businesses and sectors that have a strong chance of coming out of the pandemic whole and well.
“Some businesses are going to fail no matter what,” Lewington bluntly told councillors. “We need to prioritize businesses that have a reasonable chance of surviving.”
Lewington later explained he meant this comment in terms of providing a targeted local stimulus package where the federal or provincial packages fall short.
“No government wants to pick winners or losers, right?” he stated. “This is politically not expedient, but also it is not good practice in general. However, governments at all levels have limited resources so we have to look at targeting in the sense of what businesses are under-served by federal or provincial income supports? Is there a gap the City or municipality can fill? Or are there industries that are perhaps more significantly impacted? Retail comes to mind. Is there more that can be done to help? And it might be a function of the City having to do some of those trade-offs, and some of those evaluations. And certainly that is not something any politician wants to have to handle.”
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