Chamber News

October 06, 2020 Likes Comments

Why can't we do that too?

I don’t understand why some communities across the Commonwealth are able to do things Newton says it can’t.

 
Consider, for example, the debate surrounding tonight’s vote on reducing liquor license fees.
 
Acton, Concord, Needham, Grafton and other municipalities all voted this year to temporarily reduce these fees as a way of helping their struggling restaurants.
 
But Newton’s law department says the fee cut is unconstitutional.
 
City attorney Maura O’Keefe told the city’s licensing board that cutting these fees violates the state’s “anti-aid amendment,” which prohibits the giving of money or property by a city or town to or in aid of any individual, association or corporation embarking upon any private enterprise.
 
Separately, Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller says the city can’t afford the $200,000 hit to the city budget. (Boston Globe article here and Newton TAB article here.)

But a leading hospitality industry lawyer, who reviewed the ruling on the chamber’s behalf, disagrees with the law department.
 
“I believe Ms. O’ Keefe’s reliance on the Anti-Aid Amendment in the Massachusetts Constitution … is misplaced and not supported by the law,” writes Rick Heller, general counsel and senior VO of Legal Sea Foods in a letter to the Liquor Commission.
 
City Council President Susan Albright, who along with 17 other councilors proposed the one-time 50 percent fee cut this summer, also disagrees with the law department, citing cases in a letter to the Liquor Commission that also suggests Anti-Aid is being falsely applied.
 
Reducing these fees alone, probably won’t save any restaurant that’s on the verge of closing. But a one-time savings of upwards of $1,700 this November could go a long way towards keeping an employee, paying a vendor or even investing in some outdoor heaters or tents.
 
I don’t envy the three-member licensing commission which must decide tonight (Tuesday at 7:30 p.m, how to watch via Zoom here) why Newton’s law department is telling them they can’t approve something other municipalities have enthusiastically embraced.

I’ll let you know tomorrow what the commission decides to do.
 
Hotels on the endangered list too
 
A hotel industry group is warning that two-thirds of state’s hotels are in danger of closing without a new round of federal relief, the BBJ reports.
 
Massachusetts' hotel industry has lost 15,454 of its 40,562 hotel jobs due to coronavirus, according to American Hotel & Lodging Association. It says the state could lose another 12,939 jobs if Congress does not pass another round of stimulus money for the nation’s hospitality.
 
In total 603 of the state’s 900 hotels could close, the group said.
 
Locally, both the Needham Sheraton and Hotel Indio have been closed since the shutdown. (Indigo would be replaced by a new hotel as part of the pending Riverside Station project.)
 
Meanwhile, MassLive’s Jim Kinney writes about how travel agents are staying afloat.
 
Those MBTA cuts are going to hurt
 
2020 began full of hope that this was the year the legislature was finally poised to raise revenue to address the state’s transportation crisis.
 
Fast forward nine months and one pandemic later and we’re looking at deep service cuts to bus routes, the commuter rail and shorter operating hours, plus delays to upgrade the Red and Orange line fleets.
 
The MBTA expects to finalize its cost cutting plan Dec. 7, with changes rolling out next year; just as many hope the economy will pick back up and more workers return to the office.
 
Rightfully, the T says it will prioritize service on routes where riders are most dependent on transit: communities of color, low-income areas, and routes where fewer people own cars.
 
But cutting lesser-used bus routes, slashing operating hours, eliminating weekend service in our better-off suburban communities will only make it harder for those same transit-dependent workers to get to our jobs here.
 
Arts grants in Needham
 
The Needham Cultural Council is accepting grant applications for for cultural projects and programs that benefit the community of Needham. These grants can fund exhibits, festivals, short-term artist residencies, public art, performances, workshops, lectures and organizational support.
 
“With the arts and culture community significantly struggling during this public health crisis, we really want to get the word out widely that the Needham Cultural Council has funding available,” says council spokesperson Charly Nanda. The deadline is Nov. 16. Details here.
 
New life for New Art
 
Add the New Art Center in Newtonville to the list of nonprofits that are resuming in-person programming for adults and kids.
 
New Art offers over 450 classes for adults, teens, and children and enrolls more than 2,800 students from more than 125 different zip codes. The facility has been closed since March, while offering some online programming.
 
Thanks to a $150,000 SBA Disaster Loan they’ve made capital improvements to their historic 19th century church building, addressing air quality, adding touchless sinks and toilets and other improvements.
 
SBA official seeks to calm anxious PPP recipients
 
The head of the Small Business Administration was in Boston last week, hoping to reassure nervous business owners worried about obtaining forgiveness for their Paycheck Protection Plan loans.
 
“One of the reasons I’m visiting the small businesses is to calm the waters and remove some of that angst they have about what’s going to happen, this mystique about the forgivable application,” SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza told the Globe’s Jon Chesto.
 
Of course, they’re nervous. The agency approved 5.2 million loans and started accepting applications for forgiveness on Aug. 10.
 
But as of last week, not one of the loans have been forgiven, something Carranza tells Chesto will begin within days.
 
About half of all businesses in Massachusetts applied for the PPP by July. Locally, that includes 2,091 loans in Newton; 929 loans in Needham; 724 loans in Watertown and and 851 loans in Wellesley.

Business owners and nonprofit managers want assurances that they won’t be required to repay the loan, as allowed under the forgiveness rules.
 
They’re still hoping Congress will grant automatic forgiveness for loans under a certain threshold and anxious about reports that it can up to 15 hours to complete the SBA’s “EZ” forgiveness application, followed by up to 70 hours of processing by lenders.
 
Carranza told Chesto she hopes virtually all eligible PPP loans will be forgiven, and wants to allay the fears of entrepreneurs who worry otherwise.
 
Last week the SBA said it would allow lenders to approve the sale or merger of companies that took PPP loans, under certain conditions.
 
Be back tomorrow.
President, Newton-Needham Regional Chamber
617-244-1688
Your chamber is here when you need us.

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