WEST ORANGE, NJ — After the coronavirus brought the entire country to a standstill, the West Orange Town Council is steadily working towards phase two of reopening, first by allowing restaurants to open for business with outdoor dining starting on Monday, June 15.

According to WOPD Chief James Abbott, who is also facilitating the reopening as staff operations director, getting a permit for outdoor dining is a relatively easy process, except for establishments that sell liquor for consumption.

While the township has waived all fees, consumption licensees must pay a $75 fee to the state.

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"The issue that I see is that every licensed establishment in the state of New Jersey that wants to expand to an outdoor area to serve liquor, they're going to have to go through the same process," Abbot said. "I just have my own trepidations that it may overwhelm the system."

Abbott added that the township is willing to walk anyone having difficulty through the process, but he implores all consumption licensees to get their applications in as soon as possible or else they will not be able to serve liquor outside.

On June 22, other businesses including some exercise facilities including gyms and studios owned by yoga instructors and self-defense instructors will be allowed to reopen with a permit to offer classes in the open-space areas of local parks.

"They just need to apply through the town, the recreation department will process it and be happy if they have an indemnification letter from their insurance carrier that they indemnify the town. It's a very simple process," Abbott said.

"We're trying to get creative," Council President Michelle Casalino said, adding everyone who is a part of the reopening task force has been offering local businesses ideas "to get them up and running."

Casalino also mentioned that youth sports will begin and the Ginny Duenkel Pool will also be open for business on June 22, but Recreation Department Director Bill Kehoe and Assistant Director Edwin Johnson will provide more information at the next town council meeting on how reopening the pool will look like.

Councilman Jerry Guarino implored the public to support all local businesses, because of the support they provide to the township. He also encouraged residents to continue to support the West Orange Farmers Market, which is still operating online at shop.wofarmersmarket.com.

The farmers market may return to in-person shopping as early as July 1.

The farmers market is now offering delivery with the help of Runners. Click HERE to learn more.

Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. also spoke during the meeting to give the township updates from Washington D.C.

In order to help New Jerseyans survive the coronavirus pandemic, Payne said that Congress passed the HEROES Act, a $3 trillion coronavirus aid package that includes $875 billion for the state of New Jersey.

"If that bill becomes law, West Orange would get $15 million this year and another $7.9 million next year to help defray the costs during the coronavirus [pandemic]," he said, adding that the bill would also provide another $1,200 payment to middle and low income Americans and a $6,000 minimum payment to American families.

The package also includes $75 billion to increase testing for covid-19 and $200 billion to give to essential workers as hazard pay.

"Our essential workers have been on the job daily during this crisis," Payne said. "We need to acknowledge it."

Payne also explained that although $659 billion was provided to support small businesses under the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), many business were concerned about having to pay back the loans, which led to the creation of the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act which allows business to have more flexibility in how they use their stimulus money.

It also allows people that kept their workers on payroll during this time to turn it from a loan into a grant, Payne said.

He added that congress added several fixes to the HEROES Act, to ensure that emergency funding goes to businesses like those found on Main Street and Northfield Avenue, not large corporations like Shake Shack and the LA Lakers.

All money that comes back from large corporations will be redistributed to community based lenders, banks, and credit unions.

In addition, Congress has also allocated another $10 billion to the Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Grants Fund for small businesses with under 50 employees.

For more information on PPP, unemployment or how to keep your family safe, go to payne.house.gov or contact Rep. Payne at 973-645-3213.

“The coronavirus has exposed the vital importance of the census,” Payne said adding that although West Orange has done a good job with a return rate of 67-percent ,“without accurate population counts, communities could lose funding for hospitals, medical centers and first responders and they could lose funds for roads and other critical infrastructure…

“Officials extended the deadline for the census form, but there is no excuse to wait,” he said. “All of us must get the word out to our residents. It doesn’t cost you anything, but it could cost you everything.”

Chief Financial Officer John Gross also provided an update about the budget during the meeting. After projecting a $6 million shortfall after the June 1 tax deadline, Gross said that he was “encouraged” by the current $4 million shortfall.

“We believe that we’re now ready [to] move forward with the original budget as proposed by the mayor for your consideration at a budget hearing,” he said.

“We’re confident that … any potential loss in revenue can be maintained by tax anticipation notes or, when it’s approved, the coronavirus refunding bonds.”

Authorization for the bonds needs to be approved by the state legislature and senate before being signed by Gov. Phil Murphy.

Gross explained that an upcoming virtual budget hearing will be on June 20 at 9 a.m., with the budget introduced at the next town council meeting on June 23 at 6:30, and potentially being adopted at an upcoming meeting on July 14.

There will be no public comment at the June 20 meeting, but any members of the public who wish to ask questions about the budget are welcome to submit them to Gross by email, but make sure to add all other council members to the email.