Cumberland leaders take steps to help business

Cumberland leaders take steps to help business

CUMBERLAND – The Cumberland Town Council last week completed a series of three votes to help ease the burden on local business owners during difficult times and as colder weather begins to set in.

The three votes were to:

• Approve a resolution from Mayor Jeff Mutter allowing indoor entertainment in restaurants with certain state guidelines in place.

• Approve a resolution in support of demanding the state of Rhode Island to expedite, streamline acceptance, and distribute the previously approved portion of the Cares Act funds designated for small businesses throughout the state and in accordance with the law for all small businesses impacted by COVID-19, including sole proprietors with no restrictions.

• And approved a resolution ratifying Mutter’s executive order allowing restaurants to pay their licensing fees over an extended period of time, with a deadline of June 2021.

On the indoor entertainment, Town Solicitor Kelley Morris Salvatore said the town was contacted by an entertainment licensee who said it’s getting harder to do outdoor entertainment with colder weather arriving. The state’s Phase 3 guidelines allow indoor entertainment under certain restrictions, she said, including 14 feet of distance between performers and the audiences unless everyone’s wearing masks and there is no singing and that there is no mingling or congregating, among others.

If the state moves back to Phase 2, said Morris Salvatore, the order would be immediately terminated. The goal, she said, is to help restaurants and bars that already have entertainment licenses do they best they can in a tough situation.

Morris Salvatore said Cumberland was actually being more restrictive than the state. Enforcement of the measures will be done through regular monitoring by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and Department of Health, she said.

The resolution on the CARES Act funds was initiated by businessman Ted Vecchio, who described an application process for businesses to get small grants that has “all sorts of steps” and is very convoluted. Vecchio said he agrees with Lt. Gov. Dan McKee that the state shouldn’t be restricting its $50 million in funds for small business so stringently, saying that businesses are dying as they wait.

Essentially, said Vecchio, he and others have found that it’s nearly impossible to get the money, due to all the hoops needing to be jumped through, and restrictions should be removed so business owners don’t need to “sell their soul to get $2,500.”

Councilor Scott Schmitt agreed, saying the hoops are “absolutely ridiculous” and the hurdles “so incredibly enormous.” He said the state just needs to get the money out, and it’s “immoral” that it hasn’t been disbursed in a more timely manner after months of businesses dying. By the time businesses do get the money they’re seeking, said Council President Craig Dwyer, it’s often too late.

On the resolution to spread out licensing payments, Morris Salvatore said Mutter wanted to offer struggling business owners some relief, allowing them to pay the fees on or before the end of the fiscal year next June 30.