On Friday, Body 2000 Health and Fitness Gym on Coney Drive was visited by police to enforce a stop order issued by the Belize City Council for non-payment of trade licenses. The gym’s owner claimed to have paid $3,000 for this year’s fee but was unable to produce a receipt. According to Belize City Mayor Darrell Bradley, the stop order is the last resort for a Council determined to keep up its high record of collection for property taxes and trade licenses.
“While I am not aware of the specific incident with the Body 2000, I must say that they were open this morning, because I was at the gym this morning – that is my gym. I didn’t have any incidents or there wasn’t anybody there to close them down. I can tell you that it is a matter that the property tax and trade License are billed at a certain point. trade license are due on December 31 and we usually do not have a high rate on noncompliance but with the first quarter, we usually give that as some sort of grace period before we use methods of enforcement including the stop orders. It is not surprising that that would have happened around this time because our personnel would have tried to step up enforcement in the second quarter to ensure that our numbers are high in terms of collections.”
While Bradley would not confirm PLUS News’ figures he did concede that the legislation for trade licenses had caused what he called an “urban flight” of businesses from the Old Capital. The Council, he said, has to work closely with those who remain behind and is working with Central Government to change the legislation.
“It’s not supportive of business generation within our city. You have trade license in the city and property taxes in the city. Ladyville has no trade license, Ladyville has no property taxes. so that we’ve seen that urban flight if you will that a lot of businesses are moving across the bridge which is now a large population center and they are not paying any trade or property taxes so that we need to be competitive as municipality. We’ve tried to see if we can lower the rate. We have the task force which has come up with five very strong proposals in relation to how we want to modify that law that was done in collaboration with the city council, the mayors association and the chamber of commerce and I think those are things which need to be in place. I think the rate is too high. Its 25%. So that if you’re talking about a new business to have to…and its tax that’s paid in advance not in arrears so that before if you have a burger place before you sell 1 burger, if you have a patty place before you sell 1 patty, if you have a hot dog place, before you sell 1 hot dog you have to pay 25% of your annual rental value. I think stakeholders recognized that this law needs to be changed. We just have to do it”
According to Bradley the Council has collected 97% of trade license fees and 80% of property taxes at this point of its term, up from its start in 2012. As part of its second quarter step up in enforcement the Council makes the effort to reach out to delinquent businesses, especially those who have not paid for several years and there is an option to pay via a payment plan. And as for the Body 2000 gym, as of Monday afternoon, the gym had been briefly closed but was re-opened afterward. Its owner has told a local media house that the trouble was a discrepancy in the Council’s records that has been resolved.