The city of Calgary has created a task force as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to take a heavy toll on local businesses.
As businesses around the city continue to be affected by measures that have been implemented to slow the spread of coronavirus, the new Business Sector Support task force will monitor, evaluate and manage the wellness and sustainability of Calgary’s business community.
Councillors, business representatives on task force
Sonya Sharp, who is the leader of business and local economy for the city, will chair the task force.
Councillors Ward Sutherland, Jyoti Gondek and Peter Demong are the only members from city council on the task force.
Assistance from the Calgary Emergency Management Agency and the city manager’s office will also be provided.
Trying to cover all aspects of the community and society
Mayor Naheed Nenshi said that the new task force is one of five the city has currently set up, with two of them focusing on the economy.
“One is about needs and support to businesses, and the other is about long-term economic resiliency,” he said.
“We think that by doing this, we’re covering all of the different aspects of the community and society that are being impacted by this pandemic. We have to work through each of those and we have to do it in conjunction with one another.”
‘An unprecedented time’
Nenshi said the situation around coronavirus is unprecedented and businesses haven’t seen anything like this before.
“Many have been forced to close or severely scale back their business and everyone is waiting for the shoe to drop,” he said.
“It’s not clear how much insurance coverage people are going to have in this kind of event, so it’s really hard for a lot of business owners.”
Nenshi said that it’s heartbreaking to hear that local businesses have been laying off staff.
“They’re closing their doors and they don’t even know when they’re going to be able to reopen.”
He said that it’s time for the city to start thinking about what they can do the mitigate the damage that has been done.
“What we need to do is think in the short term — what can we do to help these folks to get through this so that they can keep their doors open or reopen once they’re able to,” Nenshi said.
“We really have to think about how we juice the economy so that when we see the other side of this, we can hit the ground running.”
Tax breaks for businesses being considered
Nenshi said that all options, such as providing tax breaks and incentives for businesses, are on the table.
“We’re looking at everything because we want to be there for businesses.”
He noted that the biggest challenge for the city in achieving those goals is that unlike provincial and federal governments, municipalities can’t run deficits.
“We have to make up any money that we’re allowing in tax breaks or deferrals by the end of the year,” Nenshi said.
He said the city is continuing to have deep discussions with the provincial and federal governments on what kind of backstop or financial assistance exists that will allow the city to defer those taxes.
“I would like nothing more than to really take away the fear of paying your taxes, which is in the back of the minds of many local business owners,” Nenshi said.
As for any help from the provincial government, Nenshi said that nothing has been committed to Calgary yet, but the province has been very open to discussions.
“When they went ahead with the deferral of their portion of the property tax, they did so after having a very good discussion with us,” he said.
Jumpstarting the economy by funding the Green Line
When asked about whether funding the Green Line would help get the economy back on its feet, Nenshi said that it’s an option that they have been looking at.
“Two weeks ago, that was absolutely a discussion we were having about how we can work with the provincial and federal governments on how we can accelerate the project,” he said.
But as the city continues to deal with an emergency response due to the coronavirus, any discussion for funding the Green Line has been off the table.
“This [coronavirus] crisis is changing minute-by-minute. But [funding the Green Line] is absolutely an option we should be looking at as it’s by far the largest thing that we have that can create jobs,” Nenshi said.
City launches hub to provide information daily to businesses
The city has set up a centralized information hub on its website for businesses that will communicate new information from the various levels of government on a daily basis.
The website will help reduce the time that businesses take to search for important and helpful information.