Batavia planning to offer grants for liquor license fees
Hoping to assist struggling businesses during the coronavirus crisis, Batavia officials have supported offering grants to cover annual local liquor license fees.
In a 10-2 vote last week, the committee of the whole directed staff members to roll out a program that would waive this year's renewal costs for bars, restaurants and other license holders that submit an application.
The concept could put a dent of roughly $75,000 in the city's budget if all qualifying businesses participate, city Administrator Laura Newman said. The fees are set at $1,800 for restaurants, $1,500 for bars and taverns, and $750 for stores that sell packaged liquor.
The subject will be brought back to the city council July 20, Newman said, primarily to clarify information about the state's liquor license renewal date, which has been extended until Dec. 31.
Some aldermen expressed concerns over the potential loss of revenue, particularly during a time of economic uncertainty. But Alderman Dan Chanzit said the fees could be a significant expense for a small business, compared to their much smaller effect on the city's nearly $140 million budget.
"This is a drop in the bucket, but it is a step in the right direction to assist a business owner with their bottom line to keep the place open," he said. "If these businesses aren't around next year to apply for the license, then what's the point?"
Aldermen Nick Cerone and Joseph Knopp cast dissenting votes, saying they're not comfortable eliminating that revenue source when the city has yet to receive any federal funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
The anticipated $2 million would likely go toward public safety payroll expenses, Newman said, which would free up some cash for economic assistance efforts.
The liquor license grant, along with an ongoing COVID-19 small business grant program, aims to support establishments "on the fringe," she said, where a couple thousand dollars could make a difference for owners, employees and even some city revenue streams, such as sales and liquor taxes.
So far, the city has not seen a drastic dip compared to last year, Newman added, though a shortfall due to coronavirus restrictions could still be forthcoming. "We're trying to weigh the balance of that," she said.
For now, Knopp said, he believes there are "too many 'ifs' to make a decision that has that kind of impact."
A majority of the city's more than 80 liquor license holders are independently owned businesses, Newman said. By requiring establishments to apply for a liquor license grant, rather than waiving the fee, city officials hope to deter larger corporations that have not been as drastically impacted by the pandemic.
"If it's handled like that, I'm more in support of it," Alderman Alan Wolff said. "I think it's something that for the smaller businesses is really important that they get any help that they can."