Halifax businesses call for break in sidewalk patio fees, as permit prices hiked again

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Small businesses concerned about patio permit prices
Small business owners in the Maritimes are concerned about the high cost of permits for summer sidewalk patios. Zack Power reports. – May 21, 2024

You don’t have to look far in Downtown Halifax to find a business hosting tourists and locals on a patio, but it comes at a price. According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB), patios in the municipality have some of the highest permit costs in Atlantic Canada.

The burden of sidewalk patio fees has intensified ahead of the summer tourism season, with an 11.89-square-metre (slightly smaller than a parking space) sidewalk patio now costing $970, an increase from $940 just a year ago. This escalation in costs directly affects businesses, potentially hampering their ability to cater to both tourists and locals.

Halifax, according to the CFIB, ranks third among Atlantic Canada’s cities in terms of patio fees, trailing behind St. John’s, NL and Saint John, NB. This disparity in fees raises questions about the fairness of the current system and calls for a review of the fees by the Halifax Regional Municipality.

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“The city did waive these fees during COVID,” told Duncan Robertson, a Senior Policy Analyst with the CFIB.

“In 2022/2021, city staff estimated it would cost the city around $40,000. So compared to an over $1-billion budget, we don’t think it’s a huge cost impact.”

The municipality, in a recent interview with Global News, defended the increase in patio fees, attributing it to the rise in inflation. They stated that they adjust their fees for storekeepers if the consumer price index rises, indicating that the fee increase is a response to economic factors.

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Compared to 2019, fees for seasonal patios jumped from a maximum of $800 to $970.

This year, annual licenses cost over $1200. The municipality also charges $400 for the removal of municipal infrastructure, like signs and parking pay stations.

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Peter Nightengale, the municipal licence standards manager, compared those patios to renting extra space for the business, and the municipality acts as the landlord.

It’s those tenants who are also calling on the municipality for more COVID-style breaks for their patio fees after receiving bills in the four figures.

“The winter was a fairly tough winter because of the economic situation. And I think all the CEBA (Canada Emergency Business Account) loans that we all took during the pandemic, all had to be repaid,” said Brian Doherty, the owner of The Old Triangle in downtown Halifax.

“We would love to see if there was some kind of a break in, a bit of a reduction for a certain period of time.”

Doherty hopes to use the extra space to bring in extra diners to the restaurant following a tough fall and winter. With the rising cost of goods to the business, he was hoping to find some relief from the municipality ahead of the summer season.

The municipality said that many of the fees passed down to patio owners come from staffing costs to review the applications and safety inspections by the fire department.

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