A new by-law being developed by Port Hawkesbury Town Council has attracted a lot of attention.

The town has given first reading approval and is finalizing a new Vending By-Law designed to replace the current Licenses and Permits By-Law.

Devised by a committee consisting of town councillors Joe Janega, Bert Lewis and Trevor Boudreau, in conjunction with CAO Maris Freimanis and Mayor Billy Joe MacLean, the new by-law includes a new fee structure that would charge mobile canteens $2,000 for a one-year permit, $1,500 for a six-month permit and $300 for an “occasional permit” lasing no more than 10 days. The current by-law only requires an annual payment of $300 for mobile canteens.

Town councillor and incoming mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton, who owns and operates The Fleur-de-Lis Dining Room, did not participate in the committee, citing a conflict-of-interest.
According to the CAO, the new by-law is designed to provide balance between independent mobile vendors and businesses such as restaurants that pay thousands of dollars to the town in commercial taxes, while bearing such costs as electricity, rent and additional overhead.

The new by-law would also charge $300 for a six-month permit and $100 for a 10-day permit for flea markets, with mobile stands or peddle carts to be charged $100 for six-month permits and $50 for 10-day permits, while non-mobile stands would be charged $30 for a year and $50 for either six months or 10 days. Peddlers and auctioneers would face a $100 charge for six months and a $50 fee for one day, with general special event permits also available for $50.

The by-law also gives the town the ability to refuse permits to flea markets or other vendors who set up shop in locations deemed unsafe.

While it appears that the town is trying to be fair to the entire business community, the fees prescribed in this new by-law are a financial hit for some that will make it hard for to consistently set up shop, offer a full range of products and services and most importantly, contribute tangibly to the local economy.

It is true that some local businesses are paying more in taxes, bills and overhead than temporary vendors, mobile food trucks and flea markets, but some in this latter group do incur high out-of-pocket expenses. And some of these vendors are attracting people to the town who might not otherwise visit or spend money in Port Hawkesbury.

The CAO is correct that a balance must be struck, but dramatically changing the fee structure will not achieve any equilibrium. For some, it represents an annual fee increase of up to $1,700. That can eat into the bottom line and compromise the financial future of some businesses, and whether they’re temporary or not, that will impact the town.

If these fees must be increased, then they must be established at a rate that is affordable and within a timeline that is realistic. One suggestion is for a smaller increase in the first year (perhaps $200), to allow these operators to prepare for the extra cost, followed by a review of the fee structure in the next year.

This review would entail feedback from the vendors, their customers, other business owners, and residents and ratepayers, so that any decisions will be reached with input from those most affected.

That way the town can establish reasonable rates it can collect and the vendors can afford.