Berthoud Weekly Surveyor | Covering all the angles in the Garden Spot

Larimer “Level Up” plan to get a second look

By: Dan Karpiel | The Surveyor | December 17, 2020 | Business

When Larimer County was moved to “Level Red” on the state’s COVID-19 dial on Nov. 24, many local small businesses, most notably restaurants, breweries, gyms, salons and the like, were left scrambling to find ways to survive.

Faced with the potential for bankruptcy or the prospect of shuttering their businesses forever, multiple local small businesses defied the order, opting to stay open and operate under the Level Yellow protocols.

Others chose the route of compliance, at significant costs, in hopes the state would have a change of heart. Berthoud’s Grandpa’s Café took the former route and, over this past weekend, had their liquor license suspended by the state licensing authority.

Local businesses banded together and worked with the county health department, local chambers of commerce and the board of commissioners to find a workaround. Working together, with input from all sources, the group developed the “Level Up” program that was submitted to the office of Governor Jared Polis (D-Colo.) last week.

The program, as initially submitted, would allow small businesses who meet stringent health and safety practices to apply for what is in effect a variance to operate at one level below the county’s current status on the dial. Currently at Level Red, businesses who passed inspection could operate at Level Orange, one level less restrictive.

“The Level Up Pilot Program will have participating businesses apply a layered approach of proven strategies to reduce the transmission of Covid-19. Participation will be based on the ability to apply current best practices and to prove compliance with implementing those protocols. This pilot program couples a robust messaging and education campaign to the business community and the general public to increase compliance with current public health guidance, particularly in the importance of limiting gatherings to members of a single household,” read a Dec. 10 press release provided by a group of Larimer County chambers of commerce. “Ultimately, the Level-Up Pilot Program is focused on suppressing the virus and mitigating economic damage to the business community.”

The plan, as reported by the Surveyor last week, was submitted to Gov. Polis on Dec. 11 but the governor himself did not attend the presentation, instead dispatching his chief of staff, Rick Palacio, and advisor Kasey Wulff, to attend the call on his behalf.

Results of the virtual presentation were mixed, with the governor’s lieutenants commending the group for their thoughtfulness in crafting the plan but ultimately deciding to delay deciding on the plan, stating they will revisit it at a meeting scheduled for Dec. 18.

Local business groups, including Small Business for a Healthy Loveland, a consortium of around 100 businesses, expressed disappointment with the governor’s office’s decision but promised to move forward.

Following the delay, the group did attempt to generate support for a program currently used in Garfield County where small businesses could be deemed as “essential” in the same was as large retailers and grocers. After investigating the program and discussing it with the county, creating such a program was deemed infeasible.

Larimer County Commissioner Steve Johnson, a vocal proponent of allowing small businesses to operate in a manner similar to large chains told the Surveyor when asked about replicating the Garfield County model, “The county does not have the ability to change the designation of what is an essential business. That is done by the state. So, at best it would be a symbolic gesture and any businesses that followed such a resolution by the county would be in violation of the state public health orders. I don’t see this as a viable option.”

Johnson said the decision to not pursue a plan similar to that of Garfield’s was made after consultation with Larimer County attorneys. Johnson further stated that he has confidence that the Level Up program, “has much more of a chance of being successful,” and will be resubmitted to the Governor’s office late this week.

The Berthoud Area Chamber was delighted last week to receive news from the town that the Berthoud Bucks program, which was well-received by citizens and businesses alike, will receive an additional stream of funding from the town via the remaining CARES Act funds, in the neighborhood of $25,000.

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