By Bob Uphues
As restaurants and bars struggling to survive in the face of a resurgent COVID-19 pandemic face shelling out thousands of dollars to renew liquor licenses in December, Brookfield trustees on Nov. 23 are expected to approve a plan to waive 50-percent of local liquor license fees for 2021.
In addition to reducing the cost of the licenses, trustees plan to allow bar and restaurant owners to pay liquor license fees in two installments, the first of which won't be due until June 1, 2021.
By waiving 50-percent of all liquor license fees, the village will forego about $24,000 in revenue, according to Village Manager Timothy Wiberg, but the village's finance director confirmed at the Brookfield Board of Trustees meeting on Nov. 9 that the discount and delayed collection of the fees would not pose a particular cash flow issue next year.
The fee reduction would not be extended to liquor stores, only to businesses who pay the village a 1-percent places-for-eating-and-drinking tax.
The action comes after a very rough 2020 for restaurant and tavern owners whose dining rooms and barrooms were shut down for more than three months earlier this year during the pandemic's first wave.
While many businesses were able to offer carryout, curbside and delivery to customers, the dining room closures led to steep revenue declines, which began to recover after outdoor dining relaunched in late May and limited indoor dining resumed a month later.
However, with the number of new COVID-19 cases exploding in the past month, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker reinstated the indoor dining and drinking ban. While most establishments have adhered to the order, others have not, with owners and managers saying their businesses can't survive another prolonged shutdown.
Most restaurants and bar owners in Brookfield pay about $3,000 annually for liquor licenses. The renewal period comes each December and fees are typically paid in full up front.
"Our budget is tight also, but we have a reason to want these places to be able to survive," said Trustee Michael Garvey.
Trustee Brian Conroy suggested that perhaps the 50-percent reduction could be split between 2020 and 2021, with business owners getting a rebate to account for this year's shutdown. In the end, trustees decided to go with Trustee Edward Cote's suggestion of simplifying the program by applying the savings in 2021.
"I think we all have the same thing in mind – we want to provide some relief," said Garvey in support of Cote's idea. "A 50-percent reduction in their liquor license fees and knowing they don't have to make a payment until June I think is pretty substantial relief."
Trustees did agree with another of Conroy's suggestions, which was making the 50-percent fee waiver contingent on restaurant and bar owners being up to date in submitting the places-for-eating tax receipts to the village.
"This would just be a carrot to try to get them to come up to date with that," Conroy said.