Cochrane town councillors were leery of the benefit of cancelling 2021 licence fees for Cochrane businesses struggling during the pandemic.

While commending town councillor Patrick Wilson for the spirit of the effort, they weren't convinced it would be particularly beneficial or could be administered efficiently.

"I love the principle of this, I just would hope that there were other ways, better ways, more helpful ways, more useful ways to help those small businesses that are struggling," said Councillor Alex Reed.

The town charges $80 for a minor business licence and $160 for a major business licence.

Economic development manager Mike Korman told council all but 159 of the licences have been paid, and that his department is gentle in their approach.

Last year, the late fee of $30 was not charged, nor have they been imposed this year.

Councillor Susan Flowers believes the town is doing great things right now with programs that can make a difference for all businesses.

She said it would be an onerous administrative task to wade through the 1,425 business licences.

"I would rather we stick to some of the amazing things we're working on," she said.

Marni Fedeyko, repeated calling it a business tax as opposed to a business licence, did not believe the idea hit the mark. She believed the focus should be on the businesses that have been shut down twice by the government during the pandemic. 

While saying small businesses view any helpful action taken by the town as a win, she wasn't sure if this was the right approach. She believed the focus should be on businesses that have been forced to close twice through the pandemic.

Mayor Jeff Genung didn't agree with the idea but says council and the town need to continue to find ways to help.

"I'd like to see us do something more meaningful with our tax dollars that can really make change and help businesses. The frustrating part of it is, as a municipality, it's really difficult because we're limited with the amount of financial resources that we can actually apply to anything," said Genung.

"I agree with Councillor McFadden that we need to continue to beat the bushes and put our heads together and think about ways we can support businesses and residents, for that matter, but I don't know if this is quite the avenue to do that in my opinion," he continued.

Councillor Wilson brought forward a notice of motion on Feb. 8 to forgive business licence fees for those heavily impacted by the pandemic.

In presenting the motion on Feb. 22, he proposed a simple form could be completed identifying the company, business license number, and a brief explanation of the hardship caused by the pandemic. Applications would then be reviewed by the economic recovery task force.

He expressed concern over the shortfallings of the programs offered by the provincial and federal government.

"While it is true there are other financial programs in place to help small businesses at higher levels of government, it is my opinion that many small businesses do not qualify or slip through inevitable criteria cracks in the system."

He believes council needs to continue to find ways to help.

"I get a sense of quiet desperation going on, not quite enough to raises the alarm bells. Every person I've talked to who has been restricted and lockdown, because not every business has, may not be showing it outwardly, but there's a lot of desperation out there and that's where this comes from. If we want to kill this, I'm not attached to it particularly, but I would just like to find some avenue to address it."