Council ponders outdoor dining fee options

When Ruby Bugarin, co-owner of Pepe's Restaurant in Montrose, learned her outdoor dining permit would jump to $650 from $50, she was outraged, a feeling shared by many restaurant owners in the city.

But few business owners who would be affected by the fee hikes have been attending public outreach meetings aimed at presenting new options and getting feedback.

At the second meeting Monday morning at City Hall, just four restaurateurs were in the audience, including Bugarin. At the first meeting in March, there were just seven, even though there are currently about 70 outdoor dining permits issued.

“We were hoping for a larger number of restaurant owners,” said City Engineer Roubik Golanian.

After nearly two decades of charging a $50 fee, the city increased it to $650 to cover the direct cost of processing the outdoor-dining permits. After backlash from the business community, officials put the fee boost on hold.

“It was a massive jump and we had a lot of complaints,” Golanian said.

Since then, officials have devised four options, one that includes a flat fee and others that consist of add-ons determined by the number of chairs or tables, or the size of the outside dining area.

The flat fee includes a $450 initial payment plus a $250 renewal. The add-ons start at $150, and then include either $15 per chair, $50 per table or $1 per square foot. The add-on options also include a renewal fee of $50 plus the additional costs to the flat fee.

The permit also would include a 6.8% technology surcharge, which city officials would like the City Council to increase as they review next fiscal year's budget throughout the next few months.

Restaurant owners said the flat fee would benefit dining establishments with larger outdoor seating areas, while a fee based on the number of chairs would be more beneficial for smaller sites. Bugarin suggested the city choose the fee that is most beneficial for the largest number of businesses.

“Can you do this democratically?” she asked.

Bill A'Hearn, a city mapping specialist, said most of the roughly 70 restaurants in the city with the permits have small- and medium-sized outdoor dining areas.

A date for the council meeting to finalize the fee has yet to be scheduled, but Golanian said it should take place soon.

The new fee may go into effect in August, A'Hearn said, but current owners won't notice the change until their permits expire.

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