By Tony E. Windsor

An owner of a landmark Laurel business was denied the degree of help he hoped to receive in satisfying a delinquent utility bill. During the Monday, July 19, meeting of Laurel Mayor and Council, Sait Aslan, of the Dutch Inn restaurant, told council members that a fire at the business kept him from receiving mail over the past year and he was not aware that he had accrued a seriously delinquent water and sewer bill.

Aslan said he assumed because the restaurant had been shut down due to a fire in April of last year, that he would not be billed for water and sewer he was not using. Because mail was unable to be delivered to the restaurant and the town did not have his home address, Aslan said he was unaware of the status of the utility bill.

Councilman Bo Holden asked Aslan why he did not check on his restaurant mail at the Laurel Post Office after the restaurant was damaged by the fire. He said the post office was open during the COVID-19 pandemic and would have been able to help him pick up the mail that was addressed to the restaurant.

Aslan responded to Holden saying he has only been in the United States for six years and is not completely familiar with certain practices here. For this reason, he said he did not think about going to the post office, but now admits he should have considered that option.

Aslan said he was requesting support from the town in adjusting the amount of money he owes for delinquent utilities. He cites the fire that destroyed the restaurant and the fact that all of this occurred during the pandemic. He also said while he was attempting to do repairs on the roof of the restaurant, a vehicle left the roadway and crashed into the building, creating additional damage.

“We want very much to get the restaurant back up and running for the community,” he said. “This has created a great deal of hardship and I was hoping we could get support from the town.”

Laurel Mayor John Shwed said he sympathized with Aslan, but what he was asking from the town would set a precedent that would be difficult for the town to follow and would be unfair to other businesses who have had similar requests of hardship.

The town offered Aslan what is allowed by town policy and Shwed said there was no more that could be done. According to Laurel Finance Director Mary Intracaso, the town offered to waive 50 percent of the penalty fees that have accrued on the Dutch Inn restaurant utility account. She said this is typically what the town will do to address hardship.

The Dutch Inn bill is for a total of $2,250 and after the waiver of half of the penalties for being delinquent the town is seeking $1,968. 

Shwed told Aslan that he can also come to town hall and talk with Intracaso to be set up on a payment plan to take care of the debt. “I think it is evident that based on what I have heard here tonight, no one at the council table is prepared to do anything more than what has already been offered you. Anything additional would set a precedent and be unfair to others who have come before you seeking relief,” he said.

Shwed also suggested that Aslan may contact state and federal elected officials to find out if there might be grants available to address hardships experienced by businesses during the pandemic. Aslan said the restaurant was purchased just seven months before the pandemic set in and in order to be eligible for grant funding the business needed to be operating for a full year.

Aslan said despite the setbacks and challenges brought on by the fire and the pandemic, he plans to see the Dutch Inn renovated and operating as soon as possible.