By Chris Mannara
Business owners who are looking to accommodate winter capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic are getting some relief from the Town of Pagosa Springs via a new program.
The town has received funds via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help local businesses and nonprofits that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a press release from the town, each business or nonprofit can request reimbursement for eligible COVID-19 related expenses that are up to $7,500.
For restaurants and other business owners, this could include those who need a temporary structure that would accommodate winter customer capacity needs due to social distancing guidelines, according to the press release.
It would also include expenses that are incurred due to providing temporary outdoor seating and waiting areas to help offset the state’s required indoor customer capacity reduction, the press release notes.
“It could be for a temporary structure. That’s probably going to be the most common one simply because of the social distancing that’s required,” Senior Planner Cindy Schultz said in an interview on Tuesday.
Waiting areas or plexiglass for things such as sneeze guards are things that could be reimbursed, Schultz noted.
The hiring of extra staff could also be a reimbursable expense, she added.
“I think it’s definitely more for anything that was just induced by COVID,” she said.
For example, if a restaurant needs a tent to accommodate outdoor seating and to promote social distancing, the restaurant owner could buy the tent and go to the town to start the reimbursement process.
“This is through CARES funding. So, it’s federal funding that’s been allocated out to the state and it’s going to come to the different jurisdictions, so all of the applications will come to us. We’re not actually going to be doing the review. We will do the initial review and make sure everything is included and ship them off to the state. They are going to do the actual review and allocate the funding,” she said.
Additionally, the town is going to waive fees associated with the permitting process and is making a special exception to allow temporary structures during only winter of 2020-2021, according to the press release.
There are no application fees or planning and building fees unless there is a planning fee that would be incurred otherwise, Schultz noted.
If a new restaurant opened up, for example, and it wanted to put up a tent, it would still need to apply for that initial permit, she explained.
Assuming that the business is already open, no fees will be required to be paid; however, the business needs to incur the cost first, Schultz described.
“I can’t say that we wouldn’t normally do that if someone had a need for that type of thing, but normally people don’t come to us in the winter and say they want to put up a tent,” Schultz said.
According to Schultz, business owners will work with the town’s Building and Fire Safety Department beforehand to make sure the structures they are purchasing will be compliant for the winter seasons.
“We do have some concerns, because we do have snowloads that are greater than average and we don’t want tents collapsing,” she said. “We are trying to facilitate all of these so that people can get up and running.”
Schultz explained that it was only a matter of time for an opportunity to present itself for the winter season.
“This opportunity presented itself because of the CARES Act funding and I think that we had calculated that based on how many businesses we have and the response rate we had anticipated that it would be $7,500 if everyone applied for the maximum amount,” she said.
Some challenges faced by the town involve anticipating what everyone will need and how to make sure it can streamline the process for those interested, Schultz noted.
The town is also trying to provide as much guidance for interested parties up front for proper safety and less hassle, she added later.
However, the town’s press release notes that there could be a shortage of tents available for rental or purchase, with Schultz adding that business owners need to be proactive if they want to take part in this program.
“Certainly, we don’t know what they all are,” Schultz said of business owners’ needs. “We will be as flexible as we possibly can.”
Applications are due at the end of November and decisions on the funding will not be coming back until the end of December, Schultz noted.