HARWICH — Selectmen Monday night rejected reducing annual restaurant liquor license fees for the coming year.
Restaurants had requested the reductions because of lost business due to restrictions under the commonwealth’s emergency COVID-19 orders.
For a time, the emergency regulations prohibited serving of alcohol for on-premise consumption. Once restaurants were allowed to serve liquor on the premises, it was only allowed with meals. Seating capacity has been reduced and bars have suffered seating restrictions.
Selectmen a few weeks ago received a request to reduce the license fee for the annual liquor license from the Seal Pub in Harwich Center. Licenses can cost between $1,400 and $1,900 a year. Selectmen have been mulling the request over for the past couple of weeks. Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers said staff in his office have to send out the license renewals to establishments and provide the license fee for the coming year.
Last week, selectmen asked Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cyndi Williams what she thought about the request for a reduction in the license fee. Williams said she was proud of the quick, proactive steps the board took in working with the restaurants to set up outdoor dining provisions, but added that restaurants have been hit hard by the pandemic. New curfews just put in place by Gov. Charlie Baker reduce serving hours and colder weather will reduce outside dining, adding adverse financial impact on businesses.
In recent weeks selectmen have approved a couple of annual contract fee reductions for concessions operating at Cranberry Valley Golf Course based on impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week they approved a $10,000 reduction for Ron Leidner, who operates the Hot Stove restaurant at the clubhouse at the municipal facility. Leidner said he lost nine weeks of business through the second week in June because of closures relating to the pandemic and was also required to operate under emergency provisions reducing hours of operation and worked with serving restrictions through the summer, including reduced serving capacity and elimination of functions and events.
Several weeks ago, acting on the recommendation of the golf committee, selectmen also approved a reduction in the contract agreement for Bob Miller, who provides golf instruction services at the course. Miller was due to pay $6,077 for 2020, but the board agreed on a payment of $2,700.
Selectmen last week asked Williams and Powers to come up with a recommendation on how the board should proceed on the licensing issue. Powers said on Monday he does not support recommending a hardship for an individual licenseholder nor would he recommend a reduction in license fees.
Powers praised the board's commitment to work with restaurants to set up outside dining, noting that on the first day it was allowed restaurants had the permits to operate. But Powers added he could not in good conscience recommend reductions in the fees because the $76,000 generated from restaurant alcohol and package store licenses have been calculated into the next annual budget. Williams agreed with Powers.
Selectman Michael MacAskill said the board is committed to continuing to support restaurants, but added that the town is counting on revenues from the licenses. Selectmen agreed if there is a particular hardship, they would consider it.
Restaurant owners have been making inquiries about being able to close for a segment of the winter given restraints on the business, Powers said. That is a decision selectmen as licensing authorities will have to make, he said, adding that he would not be against it. Williams said the restaurants are re-adjusting and figuring out what to do for the winter.
“I would support it,” MacAskill said said of temporary closures. “If you drive by the restaurants during the week you see just the staff cars in the parking lot.”