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Bar owner requests city to waive liquor license fee

KANKAKEE — A longtime Kankakee bar owner seeking some financial relief from the city of Kankakee will have to look elsewhere as a request to have the 2021 liquor license fees waived was rejected.

At least for now.

Dirk Panozzo, owner since 1987 of the Jailhouse Rock bar, 793 N. Fifth Ave., sought a year-long waiver of the liquor license fee for all Kankakee establishments due to the loss of what appears will be at least 12 weeks of business due to the COVID-19 virus and the state-mandated closure of bars and restaurants.

In his letter read to the Kankakee City Council at the May 4 Kankakee City Council meeting, Panozzo explained all liquor license holders operating bars/taverns are experiencing economic pain. He asked the city administration to follow the lead of Manteno and that is to waive the fee for the full year.

A Kankakee liquor license is $1,250 for a bar such as the Jailhouse Rock. Bars also pay $250 per video gaming machine in their establishment, meaning if there are five machines in their location they pay another $1,250 annually. A packaged liquor seller has a $3,000 license.

Panozzo is only seeking the one-year “holiday” from the liquor license fee, not the city gaming license fee.

It would be a significant holiday. The city has 76 businesses listed for the sale of alcohol, 15 of which sell packaged liquor, the remainder having licenses to pour beer.

“I don’t think that asking the mayor to waive one year of liquor license fees is asking too much,” he said inside his 1,200-square-foot business earlier this week. “Bar owners here have already lost 25 percent of our annual gross income so far [having been forced by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to close since March 21].

“No one has said anything as to when we might be reopened. In the meantime, I’m going broke. Me and a whole bunch of other people.”

The 2021 liquor license takes effect May 1, the start of the city’s new budget year.

“At the bare minimum, the two-and-a-half months we’ve not been allowed to be open we should not have to pay for a license for. The city is basically saying ‘tough,’” Panozzo said.

Panozzo noted the Manteno village administration waived its 2021 liquor license and video gaming fees to aid owners of those establishments. The one-year waiver will cost Manteno about $35,000 in fees.

At the May 4 council meeting, Kankakee Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong noted Kankakee and Manteno are in far different financial positions, meaning the city does not have the ability to forgo some $125,000 of license revenue.

She noted the city doesn’t have some $25 million sitting in a reserve fund, like Manteno. The bulk of Manteno’s cash reserves came through the 2018 sale of its municipal sewer system to Aqua Illinois.

Panozzo said while bar operators are not paying labor costs presently, they are paying monthly bills such as rent, electricity, water, natural gas and Dram Shop liability insurance. Dram Shop insurance protects owners from liability for accidents caused by customers who become intoxicated inside their establishment.

Panozzo said the city should have approached bar owners with some type of easing of licensing fees. He said everyone is well aware of the burden the government’s shut down of “non-essential” businesses has placed on people.

“We shouldn’t have had to ask for this,” he said. Panozzo said he is representing several other establishments.

Kankakee City Council’s Budget Committee Chairman Mike O’Brien said aldermen are facing extremely challenging circumstances in trying to help the city run its government, but they are also aware that businesses are facing the same types of challenges.

“I think everyone has concerns about that,” he said of the stresses on businesses. “We should be on the lookout for ways to reduce the burdens on them,” O’Brien said.

Chris Curtis, R-6, who previously announced his mayoral candidacy and is chairman of the council’s License & Franchise Committee, said he is exploring any means possible to help local small business.

Curtis noted a one-year vacation on a liquor licenses should be investigated. He said between licensing of bars and video gaming machines and the taxes on beverages sold and gaming wagers in these locations, the city realizes about $1 million a year. Those figures represent a large hole to fill if these businesses cannot reopen.

Curtis noted the federal government, through its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, is seeking to help small businesses and entrepreneurs. Kankakee was awarded $345,619 in early March. Curtis said plans are being developed as how to use this money.

“I think we should help them somehow. ... At this point everything is on the table for discussion,” Curtis said. “We should look at everything.”

County seeks blueprint to reopen region

KANKAKEE — The patience of many business owners is beginning to wear extremely thin and they are pushing elected officials to make some moves allowing them — those considered “non-essential” — to reopen and begin to earn a living before the time comes too late to salvage anything.

As a result of the growing call to unlock the doors of businesses closed due to health concerns related to the COVID-19 virus which has been listed as a contributing factor in 34 deaths here, the Kankakee County Board — through the push of four county board members — will begin mapping out a plan allowing them to once again earn a living.

At Tuesday’s Kankakee County Board meeting, a lengthy discussion was held to open the county for business.

What impact such a move may have is yet unknown as Gov. J.B. Pritzker — for better or for worse — ultimately holds the keys which could unlock the economy and when, how and who may be allowed to reopen has not yet been spelled out.

Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said the county can approve any resolution it would like, but it is largely meaningless.

“A resolution from the board is purely symbolic at the end of the day,” he said. Rowe said until high courts weigh in on the constitutional validity of Pritzker’s order, this is simply talk.

That fact hasn’t stopped a group of four county board members from pushing to develop a course of action allowing these shuttered businesses to once again welcome customers.

Kankakee County Board members Jim Byrne, Colton Ekhoff, Joe Swanson and Brenda Zuccollo drafted a two-page resolution which seemingly starts the engine for allowing Kankakee County businesses to get back into business.

The resolution clearly states many businesses would be putting themselves at risk of losing their state business license. The document also suggest opening in three stages: 25 percent capacity; 50 percent capacity; and 100 percent capacity. The time frame is not for each stage is not identified.

The request made by Byrne and supported by Ekhoff to send the matter to the county board’s 9 a.m. May 27 Executive Committee meeting was unanimously supported by the county board.

“This is something to build upon,” Byrne, whose district includes portions of Bradley and Bourbonnais, said prior to the meeting. “We need to initiate a conversation. This needs to be well thought out for public safety, but we here in Kankakee County are not in a hot zone like Chicago. Our goal is to get a plan in place.”

Other than those businesses deemed essential, the vast majority of businesses here — many being the so-called small businesses — have not been allowed to open since Pritzker issued his “Stay-at-home” order on March 21. The order eliminated dine-in service at restaurants, closed many retail outlets and has largely brought many regions, including Kankakee County, to its financial knees.

Municipal governments and the Kankakee County Board are facing the grim image of dealing with budgets which will likely be shorted millions due to the loss of retail sales, coupled with the sharp increase in unemployment due to so many businesses being forced to close.

Byrne said the county must draft a resolution with “teeth” allowing doors to be opened.

The growing fear is by the time businesses are green-lighted to open, they may have suffered so much loss that will not have the resources to open again.

Kankakee County is also facing the real issue of being lumped in with the Chicagoland region, according to public health districts, that it would be the last area to reopen as Chicago and Cook County are yet facing growing coronavirus illnesses and deaths.

“We need a phase-in plan in place,” Byrne told his fellow board members Tuesday. He said with commonsense being the guide, the county can safely reopen if it has a well-thought plan in place.

“We have to be respectful of the virus,” he said acknowledging caution must be used. “We have to start this process. We have to have a plan in place to act. Time for talk is over. ... People are fed up. We can’t continue this. We have seen the data. We are not a ‘hot zone [rapidly increases infections].’ We are not Chicago. It’s time for us as a governing body to act.”

He said this is not about simply snapping the fingers and it’s back to business as usual. He said guidance would have to come from the Kankakee County Health Department as well.

Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler said the county board simply does not have the authority to declare such a move.

“But what we can do is have a plan, a reopening plan,” he said noting that if a plan is in place and when the order is lifted the region will be ready.

But, he cautioned, everyone must continue to be responsible with their actions in terms of not spreading this virus.

“We don’t want to be dealing with this in waves for years to come. ... We’re looking at logical ways to open and get people back to work.”

Ekhoff said the goal is not to make the county a target of the governor, but representing the citizens.

He said a Momence hair salon owner informed him this business ban could ultimately cost her the business.

“We cannot sustain another month of closure. That’s why I support the reopening of Kankakee County. We must urgently reopen Kankakee County for business.”

UPDATED: Manteno veterans home reports 40 COVID-19 cases

Daily Journal staff report

MANTENO — One resident testing positive for COVID-19 at the Illinois Veterans Home at Manteno last week led state officials to test all residents and employees.

Those test results are in, with Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike reporting 30 residents and 10 staff at the facility were confirmed positive.

All 40 cases came from the veterans home unit. No positive results were found in new testing in the Prince House unit for homeless veterans, according to Evan Fazio, the public information officer for the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.

Fazio said for the week of April 27 to May 3, seven tests taken at the home all came back negative.

“The health and safety of Illinois’ military veterans and the heroic staff who work with them is the top priority of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs,” Fazio said in an email to the Daily Journal.

“Since the identification of positive cases at the home, team IVHM moved swiftly to test every resident and separate positive residents from negative residents. From the beginning of this public health emergency, team IVHM put in place stringent precautions to everyone at the facility.”

Those precautions include continuing health screenings of staff and residents, maintaining social distancing practices, wearing face masks, using gloves and gowns when indicated, and intensified cleaning and disinfection protocols.

Residents continue to be encouraged to stay in their rooms to minimize movement within the facility, Fazio said.

In April, the IDVA confirmed that an employee at the Prince Home tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Manteno facility provides care for up to 294 skilled care and special needs veterans, according to the IDVA’s website.