Hawkesbury Pawn Shop owner Robert Portelance wants fairer business licence fees, and town council has agreed that changes are necessary.

Portelance addressed town council on April 26 and questioned why pawn shops are subjected to annual business licence fees 10 times higher than other commercial establishments in Hawkesbury. A basic business licence fee is $120 per year in Hawkesbury. However, it is $1,200 per year for pawn shops, which is the same price for so-called ‘adult entertainment’ establishments, and none of those exist in Hawkesbury.

“What they pay in a year, I pay in a month,” said Portelance, speaking with The Review on Monday, May 3. The pawn shop owner was referring to the much lower annual licence fees paid by his neighbours in Hawkesbury’s downtown core.

The current business licence by-law was adopted in 2004. According to the schedule of fees, the last change to them was made in 2017.  Portelance believes the fees he pays are unfair and he wants them reduced, especially due to the struggle of operating a business amid pandemic restrictions.

Portelance has owned the pawn shop for four years.  At $1,200 per year, he has paid $4,800 in licence fees to the Town of Hawkesbury, compared to the $480 he would have paid over the same time period for a standard business licence.

At the April 26 meeting, Councillor Lawrence Bogue questioned why the fees for pawn shops are higher. He and Councillor Yves Paquette agreed the higher fees are likely due to a past effort to discourage pawn shops from opening in Hawkesbury because of negative activities sometimes associated with that type of business.

The Hawkesbury Pawn Shop is the only such business in town.

“It sounds like something that was implemented to limit the amount of pawn shops that we would have by having a high entry point,” Councillor Antonios Tsourounakis commented.

Agreement was evident among councillors that pawn shops are not a great concern presently, and that the licence fees should be reviewed.  Mayor Paula Assaly agreed.

“I think we have a consensus that pawn shops could benefit from a reduction in permit fees,” she said.

Council agreed to direct staff to arrange for a reduction in the licencing fee for Portelance to a more equitable amount, and to perform a review of the entire by-law.

“Pawn shops had a negative connotation to them, but people are used to them. We are in 2021 and there is not an overabundance of pawn shops in Hawkesbury,” Assaly said, in a separate interview with The Review.

The pawn shop’s owner says he is satisfied with council’s decision and is not expecting a reimbursement of all of the extra money he has paid during the past four years.

“I know they’re going to do something,” Portelance said.

Municipal staff are preparing an alternative fee for Portelance and will be reporting to council at a future meeting to discuss the alternatives, as well as a review of the business licence by-law.

“It’s going to be changed for at least next year I think,” said Portelance.

During the present COVID-19 shutdown in Ontario, pawn shops are permitted to open because of the financial services they offer, which include small loans in return for goods as collateral, cheque cashing, and tax return preparation. The regulations do not allow customers to buy any of the merchandise, because it is not considered essential.

“I can’t sell right now,” said Portelance.