Fiesta Guadalajara warns customers that the restaurant is only open for to-go meals and delivery for now. (The Enterprise/file)

ONTARIO – More help is on the way for beleaguered restaurant owners in Ontario.

Following a unanimous vote Thursday by the Ontario City Council, restaurant owners can get forgiven for utility bills December, January and February. This means that costs like water and sewage that are normally paid to the city will be waived.

A state order closed Malheur County restaurants to indoor dining in November, leaving restaurants and bars struggling to stay afloat with carryout only.

The city’s move reprises an earlier utility forgiveness initiative for restaurants that took place during three months in summer 2020. The previous effort cost the city about $15,000, a price which city officials expect this round of assistance to match or exceed. 

The initiative was the brainchild of Ontario Mayor Riley Hill, who said he has close friends in the restaurant industry. 

“I think that the governor doesn’t understand Ontario, Oregon, that it’s unique because it’s on the Idaho border,” Hill said. “I know many people that go to coffee shops in the morning, and instead of going here, they go to Payette. The same thing happens with the happy hours at night.”

Hill said that the economic pressure on restaurants, which are expected to maintain various licenses and insurance even with reduced income, was significant. 

Adam Brown, Ontario city manager, estimated that about 20 to 30 businesses may make use of the program. 

Though other kinds of businesses, like gyms, were also shut down by the governor’s orders, Brown said that it was restaurants that were most affected by the cost of utilities like water, which is key to their operation. The new resolution’s aid is limited to restaurants. 

Interested establishments can fill out a one-page application on the Ontario city website to access the funds.

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

SUPPORT OUR VITAL LOCAL WORK: We provide Malheur County the local journalism that searches out the facts for you. SUBSCRIBE FOR $5/month. Click HERE.