Raising Rates During COVID-19 Pandemic

(WSVN) - Businesses are struggling as COVID continues to crush them, and one South Florida city has decided to more than double the parking rates, leaving one business owner to say, “Why are you hurting instead of helping us?” Can a city raise rates during a pandemic? The answer to that and more coronavirus questions is in tonight’s Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

Egg & You Restaurant has been a Fort Lauderdale favorite for 64 years.

Jean Bartos, Egg & You: “Oh, breakfast, all kinds of eggs Benedict, waffles, all the breakfast you can imagine.”

The people who come in to the diner aren’t just customers. They are longtime friends.

Jean Bartos: “Yeah, it’s like a big family. We know them, we know their names, and their kids have grown up here.”

COVID, of course, shut the diner down for four months. The day Jean reopened, her customers were happy with her.

But not the City of Fort Lauderdale.

Jean Bartos: “The people came in, said, ‘Your meters are $2, and I said, ‘No, they’re not,’ and I went to check, and it’s $2. It was such a surprise.”

The parking lot near the diner belongs to the city, where it used to cost 75 cents an hour to park. Then, when COVID closed the diner, Fort Lauderdale jumped the rate to a $2 minimum, according to the meter.

Jean Bartos: “It’s, like, it’s really crazy. It’s really hurting us.”

Why did the city more than double the parking rates? It says on the meter it’s a “COVID fee” to generate cash for Fort Lauderdale.

Jean Bartos: “They raised it because they were losing money from people not going out, so they had to put the meters up to make up for the loss.”

Jean says the city might think they are going to make more money, but she fears many customers will say it’s not worth it to pay $2 for a quick stop.

Jean Bartos: “If you come to pick up food, it’s $2. If you come in for a cup of coffee, it’s $2.”

Of course, if you don’t feed the meter, Fort Lauderdale will make money off that. As we watched, a city employee was writing tickets for the restaurant’s customers.

It’s all so frustrating for Jean.

Jean Bartos: “We’re going to end up being closed if we don’t get people in, because they won’t pay for parking, so that will lose the city more money than if they’re going to make increasing the meters.”

The government closed many businesses because of the pandemic. Now that the surviving businesses are trying to reopen, legally, can the government raise rates to make more money for itself? Howard?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News legal expert: “The city commissioners can do whatever they want, and what they want is money, but trying to raise money when taxpayers and business owners are struggling is not the time. Some smart politicians need to step forward in Fort Lauderdale to help instead of hurt people.”

Speaking of politicians, we are hearing from people who got their election ballots in the mail, but they are paper, so of course, some are damaged. Can you get another mail-in ballot?

Howard Finkelstein: “Yes, you can actually request an additional ballot twice. Just contact the elections office.”

But some people are going to say, “Wait a minute, won’t that let people turn in two or three ballots?

Howard Finkelstein: “No, Patrick. Once a ballot is returned, the computer shows you voted, so your other ballots will be tossed out, and if you also try to vote on Election Day, you won’t be allowed to vote there, either.”

A fellow said, when COVID hit, he wasn’t able to pay his rent. Now that he’s catching up, his landlord is piling on late fees. Does he have to pay late fees under the emergency order?

Howard Finkelstein: “If the lease does not mention late fees, no. If it does include them, yes, but try to reason with the landlord and let them know. If you can’t pay the late fees, there’s no reason to pay the late rent, since you will be kicked out anyway for not paying the late fees.”

We spoke to Fort Lauderdale. They told us they needed the money for city parking facilities and structural repairs. They pointed out a resident could park for 15 minutes at Egg & You and it would cost 50 cents, but they have to call in or use the app to do that.

Jean Bartos: “A lot of elderly people come here.”

Jean says some of her elderly customers are not tech-savvy and can’t use the app. She has a better idea for Fort Lauderdale commissioners.

Jean Bartos: “During the pandemic, it doesn’t make any sense. They should be helping us and letting people park free.”

The city could allow customers to park for free to help businesses, just as quickly as they doubled the parking rates that Jean says is hurting businesses.

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Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
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