Fee hike deals fresh blow to St. Paul’s struggling businesses

Restaurant and bar owners in St. Paul, already struggling to recover from COVID-19 and government responses to it, were dealt another blow last month when Mayor Melvin Carter imposed a mandate requiring patrons at restaurants, bars, and other places that serve food and drinks in the city to either show proof of vaccination or a negative test taken within 72 hours. Data indicates that this measure hurt businesses without doing anything to slow the spread of COVID-19. So clear was its failure, in fact, that the mandate was lifted early.

But now the city’s struggling businesses face another blow from government. On Feb. 4, while the mandate was in force, the Pioneer Press reported:

St. Paul business owners learned this week that effective Monday, a series of city fees are on the way up.

Costs for permits, licenses and certificates will increase 1.5 percent. The city’s Fire Certificate of Occupancy program, elevator and moving stair inspections and vacant building registration fees will increase even more.

The report explained:

A notification letter issued Thursday by the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections explained that the new fee rates reflect inflation, health care and personnel costs and in some cases better represent the true cost of inspections and permitting.

For instance, officials said the fees associated with fire certificates of occupancy only recoup about 50 percent of the actual expense. In response, DSI asked the City Council in December to approve increasing the cost of those certificates by about 12 percent.

The costs of those certificates is going up from $206 for a one-unit residential building to $230, and up from $913 to $1,018 for buildings over 100 units. For businesses, the costs of fire certificates of occupancy will go up $22 for sites under 14,000 square feet, for a total cost of $211. They’ll increase $100, for a total cost of $970, for businesses over 118,000 square feet. A provisional fire certificate of occupancy will be $117, instead of $105.

Business owners were understandably angry:

“St. Paul even raises fees during this mandate period,” said Leslie Rosedahl, spokesperson for the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, trade lobbyists representing restaurants, bars and liquor stores. “This is shameful.”

Rosedahl isn’t wrong. St. Paul’s government cannot keep beating up on its businesses.