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Levy hike on the way for downtown Kamloops businesses?

Downtown business owners are being asked to approve a 26 per cent increase in levies over five years for the Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association
Downtown Kamloops

Downtown business owners are being asked to approve a 26 per cent increase in levies over five years for the Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association.

The increase impacts businesses and light industrial between Columbia Street and the South Thompson River and betweem First Avenue and 10th Avenue.

KCBIA president Dino Bernardo said the increase is due to inflation costs and a new requirement by the city to provide audited year-end reports.

Bernardo said the new audited reports will cost the non-profit $5,000, equating to 7.5 per cent of the increase. The remaining 18.5 equates to the cost of inflation for wages and putting on events, such as the Santa Claus Parade and the Fourth Avenue Plaza initiative.

Inflation this year has been estimated to be between four and five per cent. Meanwhile, the KCBIA levies fund wages for an executive director, marketing co-ordinator, front desk staff and the CAP team. Insurance has also increased.

Some are questioning the increase. Kamloops Voters Society member Leslie Lax criticized city council for a lack of discussion when a bylaw to authorize the levy increase was read at an Oct. 19 meeting.

The bylaw was read for the first three times. In effect, it launched a petition process by which impacted downtown property owners who are opposed can sign within 30 days.

City of Kamloops corporate services director Kathy Humphrey said the city collects the levies on behalf of the KCBIA, but it does not determine the KCBIA budget. The levy is charged through a line item on property taxes to class five and class six owners, which is commercial and light industrial. The boundary of the KCBIA levy is not proposed to change.

For the renewal of the KCBIA levy to not proceed, a majority of owners, representing at least 50 per cent of the parcels and at least 50 per cent of the assessed value of land and improvements subject to the levy, must submit petitions within a 30-day period.

Lax also questioned whether those who are paying the levy have the ability to vote on decisions made by the KCBIA.

Coun. Mike O’Reilly, however, said the levy increase is low in 2022, at 1.5 per cent increase, and increases in year two to five per cent and to 6.5 per cent in the subsequent three years in order to plan for a rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. O’Reilly said a “huge boom” is expected once the pandemic loosens its grip on society and the KCBIA wants to be able to support businesses when that time arrives.

“This spring and summer is going to see an explosion of activity in our tourism sector and our business sector downtown and on the North Shore,” O’Reilly said.

Kent Taylor is part owner of the Big Boot Inn building downtown and operates a business out of the second floor on that building. He said the levy hike looks big, but it noted depends on how it is calculated. Twenty-six per cent is a big number, Taylor said, but the costs are minimal per building.

Bernardo noted his levy will increase by $90 over five years. Taylor said it is “manageable” when weighing the cost and the benefits. He noted the Christmas Storybook presentation last year, which drew people downtown through the holidays. He said the downtown core has problems with homelessness and any initiatives that help to bring families, shoppers and building tenants into the core is worth the added cost.

“I think it’s worth it to make the investment,” he said, noting it keeps downtown vital and vibrant. “I think its a worthwhile investment for a building owner and a business owner.”