Republicans in county legislature seek to waive restaurant fees
Monroe County restaurants would not have to pay the county’s food service establishment fee in 2021 if a budget amendment proposed by the Monroe County Legislature’s Republican Majority passes.
At a news conference Thursday, Legislature President Joe Carbone and Majority Leader Steve Brew said waiving the fees would provide critical aid to restaurants that were dealt a financial blow by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The food service industry has been the most impacted by COVID-19, and unfair government service fees are exasperating this problem,” Carbone said.
But the fees in question, which the county charges for permits to operate food service establishments, are relatively small. In 2020, a restaurant with a seating capacity of 51 people or more had to pay a $370 fee. Restaurants with seating for 25 to 50 were assessed $230, and establishments with seating for fewer than 25 had to pay $170.
Restaurants have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. According to a December survey from the New York State Restaurant Association, 8,300 restaurants in New York had shuttered due to the pandemic.
Brew said despite the dire situation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo had set “arbitrary” restrictions on restaurants. He said it was the Republican Majority who took action when it saw that restaurants were facing financial burdens.
“If Gov. Cuomo and County Executive Adam Bello fail to acknowledge the problem, the Monroe County Republican Majority will take action,” Brew said.
Democratic Legislator Rachel Barnhart said Brew’s claim is false and that the Democratic Caucus has been in talks with the Bello administration for a couple months about waiving the fees. She added that the administration has been mostly receptive to the suggestion.
A spokesperson for County Executive Adam Bello did not immediately return a call for comment.
In a letter dated Dec. 3, Barnhart urged Bello to reduce or waive the fees. During an interview, she noted that the Legislature’s Democratic Caucus and the Bello administration have been discussing the fees throughout January and December. Barnhart said her concern isn’t who gets credit for broaching the issue of the fees, but rather that it is misleading to say the Bello administration has ignored the matter.
“Maybe this is a case of great minds think alike, because we have already been working on this,” Barnhart said. “I just think it’s a fair thing to do.”
While the fees are small, Carbone argued that suspending the fees could save restaurants somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000.
While that is unlikely, it is possible. For example, in a normal year, a restaurant could potentially face over $1,000 worth of food service establishment fees if it had a dining room that could seat more than 51 people, if it operated a food truck, and if it had a stand at eight one-day festivals over the course of that year.
Restaurant owners present for Thursday’s news conference said the proposal would provide a welcome bit of relief.
Donna Perlo, owner of Perlo’s Restaurant, said it’s secondary to what restaurants truly wish to see.
“(We need) to get people in the seats,” Perlo said. “People are not going out.”
Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or firstname.lastname@example.org.