Editor's note: According to the city of Burnsville's Finance Department, the city's estimated allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funding is $6.9 million, to be received in one payment this year and one next year. 

Businesses still struggling, he says 

With bars and restaurants still struggling after more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions, Burnsville City Council Member Dan Kealey wants a full waiver of their upcoming liquor license fees.

Last year the council forgave or refunded five months worth of fees for the period from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021. That lowered the cost of an on-sale and Sunday on-sale license from $8,300 to $5,187.

Kealey wants it to be zero when the next one-year period begins July 1.

“Anything above that would be challenging for me to accept,” he said.

Council members agreed at their regular meeting Tuesday to discuss on-sale license fees at their work session next Tuesday, April 13.

Time is of the essence because license-renewal letters have already been sent, said Kealey, who called for and secured a council vote Tuesday to add the topic to the regular meeting agenda.

People are obviously visiting establishments again after the latest dialing back of state restrictions, but that masks a grim economic reality, Kealey said.

“It is a very, very, very, very challenging environment out there,” which owners he’s talked with have affirmed, Kealey said.

Mayor Elizabeth Kautz indicated she wants more information on the budget implications of forgoing license fees.

“I want to be fair and just with all of our businesses,” she said. “But yes, our bars and restaurants have been impacted the most, but there are others, too, who have been impacted.”

The city is plenty able to help on-sale licenseholders, according to Kealey. Federal relief will have made city government whole “five times over” for its pandemic-related costs, and the council should “pass that relief on,” he said.

Last year’s CARES Act brought the city $4.7 million. This year’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act will give Burnsville about $5.5 million in the next month and another $5.5 million a year from now, Kealey said.

The council reserved $2 million of its CARES funding for relief grants to businesses and a few community nonprofits.

Gov. Tim Walz’s March executive order raising bar and restaurant capacity from 50% to 75% did little to help because social distancing rules remained, Kealey said. Small and medium-sized businesses have yet to effectively reach 50 percent capacity, he said.

Walz moved bar closing from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., but most liquor sales occur after 10, Kealey said.

“The damage is ongoing,” he said. “It is still devastating those businesses. And it kind of blew me away.”

On a divided vote, elected officials in Fargo, North Dakota, waived a year of on-sale license fees, Kealey said.

The Burnsville council granted a three-month waiver last June and a two-month waiver last November, both of which coincided with Walz orders closing bars and restaurants to indoor business.

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