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Surrey business group cries foul over cost of COVID-19 patio fees

An empty patio is seen on St. Patrick's Day in Gastown in downtown Vancouver Tuesday, March 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

The Surrey Board of Trade says high fees for temporary patios are putting an unfair burden on struggling restaurants.

Surrey, like many other regional municipalities, approved a temporary patio expansion onto public property last month in order to make room for safer, outdoor dining amid COVID-19.

But unlike Vancouver, which has waived fees, or Port Coquitlam, which is offering businesses grants from a $50,000 fund to expand their patios, Surrey restaurants will have to go out of pocket to get the permit.

Businesses are facing a $200 application fee, a $500 damage deposit, a $500 traffic control fee and a fee of up to $1,400 — split with the city — per parking stall.

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“I understand local government budgets are challenged, they’re trying to ensure their costs and staff management costs are covered as well,” said Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman.

“But there’s an opportunity to reconfigure city budgets, help the restaurant sector, waive those restaurant fees and ensure that our restaurant sector has the ability to survive and really increase their cash flow.”

The patio program was approved unanimously by Surrey City Council, but Coun. Linda Annis said the extent of the fees wasn’t clear when she supported it.

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She said she voted for the package because she felt the city needed to get started on the patios as soon as possible, and was impressed by the three-day application turnaround.

But she told Global News she plans to bring the issue up at Monday’s council meeting.

“I feel that all fees should be waived. … We need to make it easy for these people that are struggling so much to get back into business.”

Annis went on to argue that without support, restaurants could fail — leaving the city with deeper financial troubles in the long run.

“It becomes a real problem because they aren’t paying business taxes then, people have lost their income, people are struggling with employment issues right now — we need to get them back in working.”

But the fees aren’t troubling at least one local restaurateur, who said restarting her business as a community hub trumped the bottom line.

Linda Docolas, with 40-year Surrey institution Ocean Park Pizza and Village Pub, described the application process as “seamless.”

“They streamlined it. I only had to deal with one person as a go-to, and the fees were minimal,” she said.

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“It has been more than worthwhile for the bottom line.”

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