Looking south down 6th Street South at Festival Square downtown. Photo credit to MyLethbridgeNow.com (Pat Siedlecki)
Lethbridge City Council has made a decision to try and help downtown businesses battle through the economic impacts of COVID-19.
On Monday (May 11), Council voted (8-1) to cancel the Downtown BRZ tax levy for this year. Businesses in the core had asked Council for a break during what has been a tough stretch for many.
City Councillor Joe Mauro was the only member of Council to vote against the motion. He says he supports helping out small “mom and pop” local businesses downtown, but has issues with giving a break to corporations like banks and chain stores (in the mall), which are also included as part of the downtown.
“It’s everybody. It’s every Tom, Dick and Harry that is coming to the city and expects us to be the bank for whatever,” says Mauro. “It seems pretty easy, and I’m not denying it’s not an issue, but COVID now seems to be an excuse for everybody to come to the city. I think I might have to put a resolution instead of it being called City Hall, we call it Bank of City Hall.”
The levy amounts to $219,000 and will be covered off this year by the Heart of Our City Committee Downtown Development Fund.
Mauro also mentioned the money given to Heart of Our City is designated tax dollars. “Now you want me to take that $219,000 from taxpayers and give it to the businesses downtown. I would definitely give it to you, but I have a problem. All of Park Place Mall pretty much is a national chain. All the big banks. All the law firms, the accounting firms, all of them. My tax dollar is going to help them.”
BRZ Chair Hunter Heggie also addressed Council on the issue. He noted all businesses downtown are part of this and those include both small shops and bigger companies like the banks, saying everyone downtown has been impacted.
Heggie told Council downtown businesses were “kicked” before with the drug crisis and as things were starting to turn around, they were kicked again by COVID-19. “All of these businesses need this help. It’s not a huge amount, but we’re worried about jeopardizing our entire association, which for 32 years has paid the levy.”
The cancelling of the 2020 BRZ levy is a one-time only deal.