Hit hard by COVID-19 prevention measures, bars and restaurants in St. Louis County are set to receive a measure of assistance beyond what's available in state and federal relief.
The St. Louis County Board agreed to refund liquor licensing fees at its meeting Tuesday in Duluth.
The board was unanimous in allowing the one-time refund, which will reduce the county's 2020 revenues by $95,741 — a miniscule part of its $420 million budget.
"Our establishments and our small businesses have been affected greatly — they're hurting," Board Chair Mike Jugovich, of Chisholm, said. "It won't solve all problems, but it shows we're taking a look at it, and doing what we can to help them out."
The board's liquor licensing committee recommended the refund. Licensing costs vary, but run liquor establishments between $1,100 and $2,500 annually.
Commissioner Ashley Grimm, representing western Duluth, called it a significant amount of relief.
"I'd like us to … talk about other ways we could support local businesses," she said, adding that she'd visit the West Duluth Business Club to discuss what else the county might do.
The liquor licensing committee was specifically concerned about the impact of business closures during Gov. Tim Walz's executive order that closed bars and restaurants throughout the holidays in order to combat the spread of COVID-19.
The order eased Monday with the return to indoor seating at half-occupancy.
"Many counties and cities have been concerned about impacts and talking about ways they're able to help those businesses," deputy county administrator Brian Fritsinger told the board.
Fritsinger said there wasn't a lot of things the board could do, but that licensing refunds would provide "some assistance and relief."