COLORADO SPRINGS — Small businesses continuing to feel the impact of the pandemic but hoping to rebound with help from the city and the new COVID-19 Relief Package.
The statewide Five Star Variance program was meant to provide them with a little relief but they say it would do the exact opposite. Luke Travins owns Jose Muldoon's in Colorado Springs and says he was looking forward to the program. That is until the state released a version that he says would hurt rather than help his fellow small business owners.
"It just adds layers of bureaucracy, layers of oversight, things we already have in the restaurant business," said Travins. "This proposed Five-Star program creates a mini health department that could cost up to a million dollars a year in taxpayer funds."
El Paso County and Colorado Springs choosing to submit a counter-proposal to immediately allow 25 percent capacity of indoor dining, with a maximum of two households per table, and increased capacity to 50 percent in two weeks if COVID-19 numbers continue to drop.
“We appreciate the State’s efforts and share mutual goals to protect lives and livelihoods during this pandemic. However, the five-star program as proposed to reward businesses for adhering to COVID public health restrictions is onerous, expensive, and not an effective solution for restaurants. It will result in considerable, unnecessary cost and administrative burden to both businesses and taxpayers," said Mayor John Suthers.
Rachel Beck with the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and EDC says the public health department approved the 25 and 50 percent capacity limits within the counter-proposal.
"We make data-based decisions here in Colorado. All of our numbers in El Paso County have been dropping since before Thanksgiving when restaurants were open, and if you look at the outbreak data you can see that restaurants and businesses aren't the sources of the outbreaks," said Beck.
While the new COVID-19 Relief Package would help, she says some small business owners are hesitant with the Level Red Restrictions.
"Because they don't know if they'll be able to stay open at the minimal level, they don't know how they're going to pay those loans back," said Beck.
As soon as the application for the Paycheck Protection Program opens, Travins says he'll be taking advantage of the relief. He expects the second round to also be forgivable and even more
"We'll also have a vaccine, and I believe we'll be able to get back to 75 to 90 percent occupancy," said Travins.
With more relief headed their way, he believes they'll be able to recover immediately.
"We'll be able to immediately hire all of our staff depending on occupancy limits," said Travins.
He says he supports the bill and thankful for the support Congress has shown small businesses during this time.
"We appreciate that there is another option to get restaurants open and increase capacity. However, we have a number of concerns: Counties must first apply with the state to be able to implement the program, and that process is cumbersome. The requirements of the program may be costly to counties that are already cash-strapped, and difficult to implement. We worry that as a result, this program will not be implemented fast enough to make a real difference in many places. Once implemented, restrictions on approved restaurants may be so burdensome that it won't serve the goal of expanding capacity. We would have liked for the Governor's office to work with us on the parameters of this program to make it a more realistic pathway to increased capacity for restaurants. Restaurants are on the brink of devastation, and many have already closed permanently since Level Red restrictions went into place. We are out of time. The publicly available data does not show that restaurants are a significant culprit in the spread of COVID-19, and we continue to ask the state for the reasoning behind its decision making. The state needs to figure out a faster way to get these places open or get these folks enough cash to survive, or this industry is going to be completely gutted - and that would have devastating effects on our state and local economies."