St. Paul is reducing business license fees, waiving vehicle towing charges and delaying street assessments to provide financial relief to businesses and residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayor Melvin Carter's office announced the reduction and suspension of fines, fees and debt collection on Tuesday, following an executive order and administrative actions by the mayor.
"Helping St. Paul residents and businesses weather this crisis is a top priority for my administration," Carter said in a statement. "These actions show we have put every possible option on the table."
The changes include a 25% reduction in license fees and license renewal extensions for businesses ordered closed under Gov. Tim Walz's March 16 executive order; waived vehicle towing and storage charges through the first week of May; delayed collection of multiyear street assessments until 2021 — though street projects are proceeding as planned — and suspended debt collection through June 30.
The financial impact on the city remains to be seen. Property owners may choose to pay assessments before 2021, and the effect on impound lot revenue will depend on how many vehicle owners come to collect their cars. On average, tow fees are between $150 and $225 and storage fees accrue at a rate of $15 a day.
If all businesses currently closed under the governor's order renew their licenses, the city will lose about $350,000 in business license fees.
Cities across the country have taken similar steps. Chicago has temporarily halted debt collection and penalties for late payment and non-safety related vehicle citations and impounds. Richmond, Va. is waiving fines and penalties on parking tickets, as long as they're paid by Aug. 31. San Francisco has lowered rates and waived time limits for parking meters, among other measures.
In the weeks since Carter announced a state of local emergency, St. Paul has rolled out relief measures for low-income families and small businesses including an emergency grant fund and meal distribution out of recreation centers.
Carter first announced the plan to cut fines and fees during a City Council meeting April 22, after telling council members that more than 7,000 families and businesses had applied for cash grants through the St. Paul Bridge Fund.
"We'll continue to examine these and other areas in our city services where we can respond to the needs of our community and ensure no one is left behind during this COVID-19 pandemic," he said.
Eric Foster opened East Side Bar on Payne Avenue on the day of Walz's executive order. Since then, Foster said, a skeleton crew has been running a takeout operation while also trying to build the restaurant's reputation and clientele.
Because East Side Bar's business license fees have already been paid, the 25% reduction will go toward its 2021 fees.
"Because we paid relatively recently, that's a long way away for us to be paying that again, assuming we make it that far," Foster said. "But, you know, every little bit helps."