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As Restaurants Struggle with Capacity Limits, State College Reduces License Fees

by on November 17, 2020 5:00 AM

A measure approved by State College Borough Council on Monday aims to provide a small bit of additional relief to local restaurants and other retail food establishments struggling with revenue losses amid statewide COVID-19 capacity restrictions.

Council unanimously approved reducing the retail food license renewal fee by 50% for 2021.

"We have had some business owners ask if there would be any consideration of a reduced fee due to the COVID-19 restrictions," Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said. "Borough food establishment businesses have been negatively impacted since March 2020 and there is no reasonable expectation that these establishments will be permitted to return to 100% of occupancy anytime soon."

Restaurants and bars in Pennsylvania were prohibited from offering any dine-in seating for about three months at the onset of the pandemic, and in July new restrictions limited seating to 25% of normal occupancy. Beginning in September, dining establishments were allowed to expand to 50% capacity.

The borough's license fee is based on the establishment's occupancy and ranges from $125 to $400 annually. Licenses are required for any public facility where food is sold or served directly to a consumer.

Fountaine said that although restaurants and other dining establishments are operating at reduced capacity, the borough is still required to conduct annual inspections and respond to any complaints.

Councilman Evan Myers said he supported the reduction and would like the borough to continue finding ways to aid other sectors of the community that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19.

"While we’re able to give relief to these establishments, even as small as it might be with this, there are many many other sections of our community that continue to suffer and suffer significantly," he said. "There are so many people that need help. What i would like to see, separate from this, is perhaps some kind of compiling of all the things the borough is doing or could do to help bring relief to many of our neighbors and friends who are suffering at this time, because there are a lot of them."

Fountaine noted the "Sustain State College" program launched in September with three facets: a mortgage, rent and utility payment program for residents that have lost income as a result of the pandemic; 0% interest loans for small businesses and nonprofits; and a relaxation of zoning requirements to allow more outdoor dining and commerce on privately owned parking areas and other private land.

He also cited Centre County awarding $5.4 million in relief grants to small businesses and $864,500 in grants to nonprofits.

The proposed 2021 budget includes funding for a business loan and grant program and additional support for programs working with affordable housing and homeless issues.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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