Q&A

With so many Telluride and Mountain Village businesses shuttered or slowed in the restaurant and hospitality industries, a business recovery call hosted by the Telluride Foundation drew more than 300 participants. (Planet file photo)

The Covid-19 pandemic, the early closure of Colorado ski resorts and subsequent restrictions aimed at suppressing spread of the virus, have combined to leave local business owners and their employees, as well as nonprofits, reeling. 

“Restaurants and the hospitality industry combined are the largest employers in our region,” pointed out Richard Betts, owner of ASAP Accounting and Payroll Inc. “Although they are accustomed to the spring off-season, this year it came two weeks early — two weeks of their highest earning period of the season.” 

With employers and employees alike scrambling to adapt, the Telluride Foundation organized the Southwest Colorado Business Recovery Information Group, which is running a series of conference calls aimed at connecting businesses in the region with local, regional, state and federal resources and information. 

Betts took part in the first call, which attracted over 300 participants and took place March 20. There was a second call on Friday with more resources.

According to organizer Bonnie Watson of the Telluride Foundation, the calls will continue — on Fridays at noon — for the foreseeable future. 

“Right now, we identify that people are very worried about Covid,” Watson said. “Our rationale is that this will end at some point and businesses need to be prepared to get back on their feet. That preparation starts today. We are focusing on the recovery of our small business communities and what resources are out there to help keep businesses afloat, and we’re trying to disburse practical, factual information to businesses.” 

The inaugural call turned up a number of questions from local business owners and some information from officials on the call. Here is a summary, updated with additional information current as of Friday morning.

Q: Has any government entity made any decision about suspending or deferring collection of sales and other taxes?

A: Beginning March 20, the Town of Mountain Village began forgoing penalties for any late payments on February sales tax owed. According to Business Development and Sustainability Senior Manager Zoe Dohnal, this will continue until further notice. 

The Town of Telluride had not formally taken action regarding sales tax as of Friday morning. 

Telluride’s finance director, Kailey Ranta, said in an email earlier this week: “The Town of Telluride has closely been monitoring Covid-19 and working to address the concerns of our employees, residents and businesses proactively. As the situation develops and we learn more during this crisis, we are continuing to evaluate information to maintain fluidity and staying dynamic. Currently, the Town of Telluride has under consideration sales tax and use tax due dates, as well as penalty and interest calculations, and we are receptive to the needs of the community to offer leniency. We will be working with customers on an individual basis.”

San Miguel County has waived interest on delinquent first-half property tax payments. The second half payment will be due on June 15, according to an announcement on the county’s Facebook page. The announcement also advises taxpayers that they cannot make this delinquent first-half payment without interest through the county online system. Instead they need to pay by check. For now, the waiver is valid through April 20, when the emergency order issued by Gov. Polis authorizing it expires.

The federal Internal Revenue Service has postponed the deadline for filing 2019 tax returns until July 15 for individuals and businesses. The federal stimulus bill, approved by the Senate Wednesday, did not include any provision for the suspension of federal payroll taxes.

Q: I am having cashflow issues. What can I do?

A: The Small Business Administration is offering Economic Injury Disaster Loans for up to $2 million with repayment periods of up to 30 years. Interest rates are 3.75 percent for qualifying small businesses. The SBA Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center can be reached at 1-800-659-2955 or online at sba.gov. The SBA is reporting heavy volume online and suggests applying via their web site between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. MT. 

Watson urged local businesses to get started with the SBA, but also to reach out to their banker.

“Go to your local bank,” Watson said. “Go to the people that you have the connections with because they are the people that are going to be able to give you faster resources, whether it is suspending a loan payment, whether it is suspending a mortgage payment, whatever it may be. It may be that they have lending options for you. We are learning of banks pulling together emergency funding that small business may be able to access.”

Watson also suggested thinking outside the box.

“I think businesses need to get gritty and scrappy and creative,” she said. “Ask yourself, ‘What is the most important thing I have to pay today and what could I possibly pay 30 or 60 or 90 days down the road?’ ”

Regionally, the Covid-19 Emergency Loan Fund has been established to offer low-interest loans to rural businesses and nonprofits located in southwestern Colorado, including San Miguel County, that have been in operation for at least a year. The loans, which have a $100 fee, range from $5,000-$10,000, have a 2.5 percent interest rate with a seven-year term and can be used for working capital and business continuity. Payment can be delayed for 90-180 days. Visit fswcf.org for more. 

Business and economic development organization Region 10 has an information page with other regional resources at region10.net.

Q: I’m reluctant to borrow, despite the low interest on some of these loans, but I need help. Are there grants I can apply for?

A: Yes. The Covid-19 Emergency Microgrant Program launched this week and is offering small grants of $1,500-$4,000 “based on demonstrated need” for businesses with less than 10 employees in southwest and southern Colorado, including San Miguel County, according to an announcement on the Southwest Colorado Business Recovery Information Group’s Facebook page. 

The program, which has been funded by the Telluride Foundation, Johnson Family Foundation and Kenneth King Foundation, seeks to provide immediate relief for small businesses and is designed to cover staff costs, wages or other expenses that will prevent job loss or layoffs, as well as utilities and other operational costs. Visit fswcf.org.

Q: Should I tell my employees to file for unemployment if we have to close or reduce hours due to Covid-19?

A: Yes, and quickly. Most employees who have been laid off due to Covid-19 are eligible for state unemployment benefits, but they should apply as soon as possible. 

There is a backlog of claims, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) web site warns, as the number of people filing increases exponentially every day. The CDLE is asking those whose last name begins with A-M to apply on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday or after noon on Saturday. Applicants with a last name beginning N-Z need to apply Monday, Wednesday, Friday and before noon on Saturday.

The web site for filing an unemployment claim is colorado.gov/pacific/cdle/start-a-claim.

An alternative to laying off employees is the state’s Work-Share Program for those eligible employers who have reduced employees’ normal weekly work hours by 10 to 40 percent and where the reduction affects at least two of the total number of employees. The program aims to allow employees of participating businesses to collect partial unemployment benefits to compensate for lost hours. Visit colorado.gov/pacific/cdle/layoffassistance for more information.

Q: I own my business. Can I claim unemployment?

A: Up until this week, the answer was: it depends. According to Betts, “many small business owners’ entities are structured as S Corporations and therefore the owners are employees of the corporation and are paid wages that are subject to State Unemployment Insurance premiums. As a result, they can claim unemployment benefits. Currently, however, if those owners have not contributed into the unemployment insurance fund through the paying in of premiums, then they are not entitled to unemployment benefits.” 

Help may be on the way, though. The federal stimulus bill that passed the U.S. Senate on Wednesday expands unemployment protections to include gig, self-employed and freelance workers. The bill still has to pass the House and officials will need to put a mechanism in place for these workers to make claims, but those who would normally not be able to claim unemployment should watch the CDLE web site.

Q: I took out an insurance policy to cover interruption of business. Now I hear that I may not be covered. Is this possible?

A: Yes, it is possible. Many interruption-of-business insurance policies contain provisions that exempt from coverage damages that result from a pandemic or virus. Read your insurance policy carefully. The federal government might yet weigh in on this issue, but to date no specific legislation has been proposed.

Q: I am the executive director of a local nonprofit and I am concerned. What help is there for nonprofits?

A: The Telluride Foundation has an emergency grant program for nonprofits. For more information, visit the foundation’s Covid-19 resources page at telluridefoundation.org/covid-19-community-resources or contact Vice President of Programs April Montgomery at april@telluridefoundation.org.

Regionally, the Covid-19 Emergency Microgrant Program is offering small grants of $1,500-$4,000 based on demonstrated need for nonprofits with fewer than 10 employees in southwest and southern Colorado, including San Miguel County. 

With funding from the Telluride Foundation, Johnson Family Foundation and Kenneth King Foundation, the program seeks to provide immediate relief for area nonprofits with aid designed to cover staff costs, wages or other expenses that will prevent job loss or layoffs, as well as utilities and other operational costs. Visit fswcf.org for more.

In addition, the federal Small Business Administration is offering Economic Injury Disaster Loans with an annual interest rate of 2.75 percent for nonprofits. The SBA Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center can be reached at (800) 659-2955 or by email at disastercustomerservice@sba.gov

And, Gov. Polis has announced a statewide emergency fund that can provide grants for community organizations of up to $25,000. Visit covrn.com/covid-relief-fund/ or check out the email sent to local nonprofits by Montgomery for other support options.

[Editor’s note: This article includes information available as of Friday morning, March 26. It should be used as a general resource only.]

To join the Telluride Foundation’s San Miguel County Business Recovery Information Call, visit the initiative’s Facebook page at facebook.com/groups/201436164626691 or contact Bonnie Watson at bonnie.watson.colorado@gmail.com. The next call is scheduled for Friday, April 3 at noon.