Give restaurants hit hard by pandemic a tax break, Winnipeg city councillor proposes

A Winnipeg city councillor is asking the city to help the restaurant industry as the pandemic continues chewing into its bottom line.

Coun. Kevin Klein (Charleswood – Tuxedo – Westwood) is putting forward a motion for a 10 per cent reduction in property and business taxes for the city’s restaurants, which he said are among the hardest hit by the economic ripple effects of COVID-19.

“If you think about this, really, the pandemic hit us in March, so we got half through the month of March, which is the first quarter,” Klein said at a news conference on Monday morning, where he was flanked by several restaurant owners.

“Since then, they’ve been hit with huge financial losses and it’s going to last until the end of the year, with certainty.”

Klein said he is proposing that those in the industry who have already paid those taxes should get some kind of rebate next year.

Ray Louie’s regular staff of well over 60 people at The Gates on Roblin restaurant is down to just 19. The popular wedding venue saw bookings vanish when the Winnipeg area was moved to the restricted level on the province’s pandemic response system — a move that outlawed gatherings larger than 10.

“Anything, at this point, helps. Any little bit,” he said.

Tony Siwicki, who owns Silver Heights Restaurant and Lounge, said traffic through his business is down 60 per cent from last year, with much of that drop happening after the new restrictions were introduced last week.

The restaurant has also seen costs go up as it pays for masks, sanitizer and plexiglass to protect staff and customers, he said.

“[We] lost pretty much every reservation,” Siwicki said, adding he predicts a lot more restaurants will close if something doesn’t change. “The fear out there is really stopping people from coming in … We can’t keep going the way we’re going right now.”

Klein said he’s heard from some other councillors who would support the motion, though he’s not sure that will be enough for it to pass.

“Council colleagues can agree to it, but if the leadership is telling them to vote a certain way, the motion is going to lose,” he said.

“But that’s not going to stop me from putting these motions forward. It’s the right thing to do, it’s economically smart and it’s good for our city to start, you know, making sure that we have the right footing for our economy to kickstart when the pandemic is over.”

Klein said he estimates it would cost the city between $2 million and $3 million to give restaurant owners the financial relief he’s proposing.

“It’s not enough,” he said. “But it’s something. And we have to do something.”

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