The neverending coronavirus pandemic has been brutal for businesses of all kinds. Many have been forced to lay off valued employees and curtail their operations in a variety of ways.
It’s an ongoing fight for survival for many businesses. Even with vaccines rolling out, it will take months before enough people are protected to allow life to return to something resembling normal.
Despite the widespread devastation, the Fargo City Commission has singled out a single category of businesses for assistance. Restaurants and bars will benefit from six months of free city utilities and a waiver of license and inspection fees.
This preferential treatment will cost the city treasury more than $1 million, a gift averaging an estimated $2,500 per establishment.
The favoritism extends to gas stations that serve a few food items up to full-service bars and restaurants.
The obvious question is how city commissioners decided to single out a single segment of businesses. Those who aren’t included can be forgiven for asking, “Why not me?”
Why didn’t the City Hall Santa Claus just walk down Broadway, picking and choosing which businesses to award breaks, distinguishing by whim between those who have been naughty and those who have been nice?
After all, retailers are suffering. So are a wide range of personal services businesses that were targeted in the shutdown early in the pandemic, including barbershops, hairstyling salons, tattoo parlors and gyms.
What about hotels? Travel-related and hospitality businesses of all kinds have been hammered by the coronavirus.
Why weren’t they included? Commissioner John Strand wants to expand the list of small establishments to favor, including salons and gyms.
That’s good for them, if his fellow commissioners go along, but what about those that will be excluded?
And what about the taxpayers, including those who have lost their jobs or have been furloughed? Why not have a city sales tax holiday?
Restaurants are a risky business. Many don’t survive early childhood or adolescence. Why treat startups the same as well-established restaurants?
Is it sound city policy to subsidize this type of business? Are there better ways to use our tax dollars?
The giveaway is especially surprising to have Commissioner Tony Gehrig as one of its authors. He’s always quick to demonize any property tax incentives, arguing that they penalize taxpayers who don’t receive them.
True to his bent, Gehrig considered property tax relief, but ran smack into laws that prohibit such discrimination — a prohibition that apparently never occurred to legislators to apply to waived utility and license fees.
After all, who would have been brazen enough to suggest such an arbitrary scheme?
Few answers are coming from City Hall as commissioners dispense their gifts.