City of Ashland Receives Plea from Local Business Cooperative —

City of Ashland Receives Plea from Local Business Cooperative

Group seeks support;  told these are “building years”

By Julie Akins

For The Ashland Chronicle

In a recent meeting with the City of Ashland a newly minted group calling itself the “Ashland Small Business Collaborative” requested assistance from the city to access relief during the global pandemic of Coronavirus.

Their businesses have been shuttered since mid March when Governor Kate Brown ordered a shut down of all non essential businesses and banned groups of 25 or more to meet.

The group has requested relief from Food and Beverage Taxes, Transient Occupancy Taxes and utility bills.

According to a business owner spearheading the group,  interim City Administrator Adam Hanks said he considered this a time of “rebuilding.”  The source tells The Chronicle that they were advised that the city does not expect most businesses to emerge from the crisis and is not offering any specific aid packages.

According to the Ashland Small Business Collaborative, they were hoping the city would access emergency funding from state and local authorities to assist them to stay in business and waive fees so that they might be able to re-coup lost income during the shut down.  They point out that as a tourist based economy hospitality businesses are integral to the tax base and operation of the city.

Currently the City of Ashland is estimated to be losing roughly $16,500/day from the restaurant tax and $500,000/month from the transient tax that hotels/motels pay as revenue to the city associated with tourism. Total loss is $1.5 million in tourism revenue at this point in time 4/1.

The business collaborative has requested the following measures which have been tentatively rejected:

  • Allowing restaurants to keep the tax revenue generated by the Food and Beverage Tax from Quarter 1 of 2020 and the future tax revenue generated for Quarter 2 of 2020
  • Publicly and repeatedly endorse rent abatement for restaurants
  • 100% utilities relief for the amount of time consumption is banned inside of restaurants
  • Eliminating late fees for past due balances on utilities through June 30
  • Not disconnecting utilities for late or non-payment through June 30

The group continued its plea to the city in their written statement:

“As business people, we must prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Businesses in Ashland are in jeopardy of closing their doors for good for every month that OSF delays their performances. The situation compounds if there is heavy smoke during July, August, and September. Many businesses in Ashland will not survive the winter without your support. Let alone all of the people and families who rely on our businesses for paychecks.

If businesses do not survive, there’s nothing to bring employees back to.

However, businesses will be able to hire a majority of employees who have been laid off if we get financial support from the city.”

As of now, the city has recommended small businesses access the Chamber of Commerce for assistance in finding grants and aid.  The City of Ashland grants the Chamber roughly $500,000 per year to promote local businesses.

The City of Ashland has not laid off nor furloughed any employees despite closing its offices and buildings to the public in an effort to avoid spreading the virus. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has closed its performances into September and laid off 80% of its staffing as a result.

The proposals of the group are not on the city council agenda as published on the City’s website.

It’s unclear if the City of Ashland plans to pursue the recommendations. Sources close to the request claim they have been given no timeline and they remain concerned.

But the downtown business group issues a dire warning:

“We need to work together to prevent a scenario where tourists visit Ashland in 2021 and experience vacant buildings and find that many of their favorite businesses had to close their doors. Business closures will send a message that Ashland is a dying town. The vibrancy will be lost.”

Julie Akins lives in Ashland and is an Ashland City Councilor