WINDHAM — Council Chairman Jarrod Maxfield said the governor’s move to open all restaurants in the state for indoor dining June 17 was an “important step forward,” but he stands by a resolution the council passed calling for more discussion by lawmakers in Augusta on local impacts of the coronavirus.

The council’s June 11 resolution calls for the Legislature to reconvene, asks the state to take the number of COVID-19 cases by zip code into account when evaluating closures and restrictions and urges Windham residents to remain “diligent” in following CDC guidelines to combat the coronavirus.

It also declared that all businesses are essential and therefore should be allowed to open, but that point became less important four days later when Gov. Janet Mills announced that restaurants in Cumberland, Androscoggin and York counties could open for indoor dining with some restrictions starting June 17. Restaurants were initially slated to reopen for indoor dining on June 1, but Mills delayed that decision a few days before. Meanwhile, businesses in other counties had already reopened as part of the state’s “Rural Reopening Plan.”

Gorham, Calais and Auburn have all passed similar resolutions.

Councilors Nick Kalogerakis and David Douglass introduced the resolution. It passed 5-2, with Clayton Haskell and Tim Nangle voting against.

“I’m concerned about a second wave. Obviously, I do support Windham businesses opening, (but) I also support the council taking meaningful steps and not just a PR stunt,” Nangle said by phone last week.

“We have a relatively low infection rate here in Windham and that’s great. However, Windham doesn’t have a wall around it,” he said.

As of June 10, the Maine CDC reported that Windham has 40 probable or confirmed cases of COVID-19 out of about 18,300 residents, an infection rate of about 0.22%. While the more rural towns north of Windham have lower infection rates than Windham, towns south of Windham, including Gorham, Falmouth, Westbrook and parts of Portland, have 383 cases combined, for an infection rate of about 0.56%. Each of these zip code areas are comparable in size to Windham.

Kalogerakis, who owns Elbow Room Bistro on Roosevelt Trail, said he has been frustrated with the reopening plans. He said that when the governor first announced restaurants could reopen June 1, he started to prepare by ordering food, getting employees back to work and outfitting everything with the proper safety protocols, only to find out a few days before that they couldn’t reopen after all.

The resolution also called for Senate President Troy Jackson and House Speaker Sara Gideon to reconvene the Legislature in Augusta.

At the June 11 meeting, Maxfield said that while the council is doing its part to have the concerns of Windham residents heard at the state level, their elected state representatives should “at a minimum” be having the same conversation in Augusta.

He stressed the declaration to Windham residents to remain diligent in following best health practices as recommended by the CDC.

“The governor can open things but if people don’t take things seriously, we could end up closed again and that could be devastating,” Maxfield said by phone last Friday.

The resolution says that the council has “proactively amended ordinances to support social distancing for restaurant and retail establishments.” In May, the council passed a measure to streamline the process for restaurants to expand their outdoor dining and waived the associated fees. In April, the council also unanimously approved a $150,000 loan program to help businesses stay afloat during the shutdown.

According to statistics from the Maine Department of Labor, Windham’s unemployment rate in April was 10.9%. In March it was just 2.6%.

Tom Bartell, director of the Windham Economic Development Corporation, said Monday that about 10 businesses had applied for the outdoor dining permit. Four businesses had applied for the continuation loan program, which is for businesses that have stayed open throughout the pandemic, and two have applied for the restart program, which will help them reopen in the future.

Bartell echoed what Kalogerakis and Douglass said at the Thursday meeting, that big box stores in town have devastated the small businesses. Many of those large retail chains, including Walmart and Home Depot, were deemed essential and allowed to stay open, while small businesses had to close, even if they sold similar inventory. He added that the small businesses did not benefit from the “retail rush” at the beginning of the shutdown order in March.

Even with these programs in place, Bartell said that they won’t “know the real damage to businesses that this shutdown has caused” for a long time.

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