Many small business owners have been financially hammered during the coronavirus pandemic, as customers stay home for health concerns and the state’s past restrictions for much of the public health crisis.
Now, they could be getting a break on millions in fees they pay for health inspections.
County Supervisor Katrina Foley is proposing waiving all county health permit fees owed by small businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic.
The plan, if approved by a majority of supervisors, would wipe out as much as $25 million total in fees.
“When I’ve been talking to local businesses – whether it’s a tattoo parlor, or a nail salon, or a restaurant, dry cleaners, any number of local businesses that require environmental health permits from the county – they’re willing to take any help that they can get,” Foley said in response to questions from Voice of OC at a news conference Monday.
At today’s supervisors’ meeting, Foley is asking her colleagues to study how to make the fee waiver happen and to bring back recommendations for final approval.
The other four supervisors didn’t return messages for comment.
“Many, many small businesses that are essentially mom and pop businesses, family owned, right here in Orange County are still struggling. And they have to pay the rent,” Foley said, adding that the waiver would come in the form of a credit or discount on permit fees.
“If we can [waive] their environmental health permit fees for 2021, 2022, up to $25 million, that should be sufficient to cover anybody who has either already received an environmental health permit or who is pursuing one, then that would be a very large benefit to the small business,” she added.
The waived fees probably will be funded by federal bailout money, Foley said.
“And it won’t be very detrimental to the county’s $7.7 billion budget. And certainly the American Rescue Plan funds that came in, that went into the revenue loss bucket, really were intended to help with small business and economic recovery. So that’s why I brought it forward,” she said.
Messages for comment were not returned by leaders at the Orange County Restaurant Association and the Southern California chapter of the California Restaurant Association.
Until Voice of OC asked questions Monday, the only information available about Foley’s proposal was a single sentence in the supervisors’ supplemental agenda for Tuesday’s board meeting.
“It’s something that can be easily done and will have huge value to those small, local businesses as we get through some of these struggles here with the Delta variant.”
Orange County is now entering a third wave of the pandemic, as hospitalization and case rates spike amid the spread of the much more contagious Delta variant.
More than 90% of new COVID infections in Orange County are the Delta variant, county health officials said in the Monday news conference.
As of Monday, 453 people were hospitalized, including 84 in intensive care units, according to county Health Care Agency data.
Dr. Matthew Zahn, a deputy county health officer who oversees infectious disease control, said that while hospitalizations have recently plateaued, officials are still “far from feeling comfortable.”
“In terms of our numbers over the last three days, our hospitalization numbers have not increased significantly but I think it’s really worth noting that if you look back over the last 14 days in Orange County, our hospitalization numbers have doubled,” Zahn said at the Monday news conference.
So far there’s no indication of new restrictions being imposed on local restaurants and small businesses, though Foley noted many businesses are themselves having to slow down as people take precautions for their health.
“Where we’re seeing some businesses have a little bit of a cutback in services again,” Foley said.
OC, along with the state, has seen a major increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations since the state lifted nearly all remaining pandemic on June 15.
In the last week alone, the number of average daily confirmed cases has nearly doubled, said OC’s deputy health officer, Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, at a coronavirus news conference Friday hosted by Foley.
“We are seeing a rise [in daily vaccinations], but when we actually look at the overall numbers [across] the county, we are plateaued,” Chinsio-Kwong said.
The positivity rate slightly decreased over the weekend.Orange County sat at a 7.8% positivity rate as of Monday, up from about 1% when the reopening took effect in mid June, according to state data.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.