The College Park City Council unanimously approved a short-term plan to aid local businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic during a virtual meeting Tuesday night.
The plan included measures to waive business renewal licenses through the end of the 2021 fiscal year and to suspend requirements regarding businesses’ signage and advertisement. The actions also included a measure encouraging landlords to delay or forego rental payments for their tenants if they are financially able to do so.
These relief efforts come after existing economic support resolutions that allow for free parking at meters and in the city garage until the end of summer.
Last week, council members discussed waiving business renewal licenses, which are required for shops and restaurants to operate. They came away without any final decisions. But this time, the council moved forward.
For the license renewals, businesses would still be required to hold a city permit called a Non-Residential Occupancy Permit. But the permit fee will be waived and it can be due any time during the 2021 fiscal year. The city earns about $57,000 in annual revenue from commercial permits on top of the $60,000 that comes from hotel and motel permits, according to city documents.
The renewal licenses initiative would result in a revenue loss of $117,000, but city manager Scott Somers felt that it would still be a good measure.
”It would also be a nice message I think to send to businesses that the city does care about them and the city’s thinking about them and doing what the city can to to assist them,” he said.
College Park resident David Gray said that, overall, the initiatives are a good way to help the city’s local businesses. Even with the sign regulation suspension, Gray could appreciate the effort, even though he said he wasn’t thrilled.
But in terms of business renewal licenses, Gray didn’t think hotels and motels needed financial support, since many are owned by large companies.
“I agree with this for the commercial properties, because lots of those are either small businesses or could definitely use the help,” Gray said. “But for the motels and hotels, I’m not particularly sympathetic.”
In another move to lessen the pandemic’s economic toll, the council opted to suspend banner and commercial sign code enforcement, which could help businesses reel in customers, Somers said.
Finally, the council drafted a letter to send to landlords urging them to delay or even completely forego rent for tenants. Somers clarified that this was a request, not a mandate.
“We wanted to make sure that the landlords knew that the city council was conscientious of the struggles that landlords were also experiencing,” Somers said.
The volunteer relief effort subcommittee may continue to analyze other initiatives and bring them to future work sessions, such as delaying payment of city business personal property taxes.
The city also wants to dive deeper into existing federal, state and county business incentive programs where its assistance could fill a gap, as well as tweak its Business Assistance and Façade Improvement Program so that it would be more flexible to business owners’ needs.
“We want to retain the [businesses] that we have and attract new ones” said District 3 Councilman John Rigg at last week’s meeting. “The city of College Park is open for business, especially for small businesses.”