Des Plaines may launch COVID-19 recovery fund for businesses

Des Plaines officials are considering creating a COVID-19 recovery fund to help businesses struggling financially as the pandemic continues.

During Tuesday's city council meeting, aldermen also said they want to continue waiving late fees on utility bills and banning utility shut-offs this year. Those practices began last year to give businesses and residents a financial break during the crisis.

Officials also may consider reducing the cost of liquor licenses for this year and business registrations for 2022, depending on how long the pandemic lingers.

The council took no formal action on the proposals Tuesday. Rather, it recommended City Manager Mike Bartholomew and his staff craft formal plans.

The session was held remotely because of the pandemic.

The recommendations followed lengthy discussions of seven proposals Monday. The council first took up the issue at its Jan. 4 meeting.

With the city starting 2021 with a $10 million deficit because of the pandemic's impact on the local economy, officials have said their choices are limited.

Grants from the proposed COVID-19 recovery fund would be relatively small, perhaps between $2,500 and $5,000 each, officials said. The city budget doesn't include resources for such grants, so officials will have to find the money where they can if they want to launch the fund, 3rd Ward Alderman Denise Rodd said.

Council members supported the continued waiving of utility late fees without objection. Typically, late fees generate about $25,000 a month for the city. Eliminating the penalty last year cost the city about $225,000, documents indicated.

Slashing annual liquor license fees in half would cost the city about $110,000, officials said. An estimate wasn't available for the financial impact of reducing business registration fees.

The council flat-out rejected one idea: a voucher system that would have the city send residents coupons to be used at local businesses and then reimburse the businesses for the value of any coupons used.

A voucher system would require businesses to voluntarily participate, and the ones that do might not be the ones "that have been harmed the most" by the financial crisis, 8th Ward Alderman Andrew Goczkowski said.

Goczkowski also objected to the potential cost of such an undertaking.

Sixth Ward Alderman Malcolm Chester said he didn't like the voucher idea because of the potential for forgery and fraud.

At the Jan. 4 meeting, several alderman said they liked the idea of creating a marketing campaign that would encourage residents to shop at local stores and eat at local restaurants. On Tuesday, Rodd said a community group is launching just such an effort.

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