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  • By Lisa Brody

Birmingham waiving fees, norms during crisis

In an effort to assist businesses and residents during the COVID-19 pandemic and to preserve and protect the public health while offering economic assistance, Birmingham City Commissioners unanimously approved numerous economic and operational assistance initiatives at their meeting on Monday, May 11. “Recognizing the economic challenges stemming for a shutdown of the state for two months or longer will have crippling effects on our residents and business community, the assessment of economic initiatives was conducted to identify areas that could help mitigate the impact,” city manager Joe Valentine explained, noting many were “low hanging fruit.” Staff conducted a review of existing operations and funds was performed to establish a list of items that could be implemented in support of residents and business community to lessen the economic impacts. In addition to the initiatives, commissioners unanimously approved temporarily allowing restaurants to modify their outdoor dining to allow for greater social distancing, and to allow for some streets to close in the evenings to allow for expanded outdoor on-street dining, through September 8. Establishments that do not have outdoor dining will be allowed to have picnic tables, and seating at parks will be expanded. Hand sanitizer will be installed throughout the city and at parks. Commissioners agreed with most recommendations, and approved delaying invoices and collection of special assessment districts (SADs), with an economic impact of about $163,500. They also agreed to waive the annual fee for outdoor dining platforms for restaurants, for an annual fee of $9,800. Also waived was the fee to restaurants for outdoor dining platform parking meter fees, for a cost of $44,500. Commissioners also agreed to waive the annual liquor license renewal fee, a cost of $13,300, as well as the annual fee for valet services, to allow businesses to continue to offer valet services, for a cost of $15,600. Businesses will be able to waive fees through the end of the summer for temporary signage, typically costing about $7,500. Planning director Jana Ecker said standards have been temporarily changed, as some businesses have already purchased banners for their businesses or have put signs in their windows. A waiver for e-check fees for automated payments will cost the city about $1,000. A waiver for field/park/shelter fees, should they be permitted this summer, was approved, for a potential cost of about $16,000. They also approved waiving fees to access records, an $8,000 annual fee. Commissioners approved having the city more actively promoting the Parkmobile parking app for city parking meters, which could cost about $20,000, but not allowing the suspension of fees after 5 p.m. at parking meters. Commissioners were concerned that restaurant workers would park at the meters and prevent customers from parking at them, or from having people who just want to pick up a package or a cup of coffee being able to find a spot. Valentine said staff is looking at having dedicated pickup and drop off spots on each block. Commissioners did approve waiving all fees at the city's parking structures through September 1, a $550,000 cost to the city, as well as waiving monthly permit holder fees at the structures through September 1, a cost of $672,000. An initial merchant fee to open a business in the city, a cost of about $2,000, is also being waived, as is temporary structure fee to allow local businesses to expand their operations outdoors to comply with social distancing guidelines and other public health orders. The city is waiving all corresponding fees through September 8. And lastly, all pet license fees are being waived. Valentine also encouraged residents to register to vote, and said the clerk's office is encouraging mail in voting and encouraging voters to be proactive requesting absentee ballots for August and November.

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