EASTON — As Gov. Larry Hogan begins to gradually ease restrictions on certain businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic, county leaders are left to decide locally whether to allow bookings of short-term rentals and bed-and-breakfasts.
Talbot County Council members, some of whom during recent meetings voiced a desire to lift such reservation limits earlier, will vote on the matter via public conference call Thursday, May 21, ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, according to Council Member Laura Price.
Price said during an interview Monday, May 18, the council was seeking guidance from its legal team regarding how it could change the restrictive language in the county’s emergency declaration without waiting until its next scheduled meeting on Tuesday, May 26.
Because the declaration is not a piece of legislation, she said the council can amend the imposed short-term rental and B&B limits through a quicker process than that required for legislative matters.
Price noted the restriction’s lifting is not yet set in stone, though she said her impression of the council members’ standing on the matter is that they want to make the change “as quickly as possible.”
“I don’t want to be any more restrictive than the governor is being. If you’ve lifted the restrictions for businesses, (rentals) is one of them,” she said. “I don’t foresee (lifting restrictions) as being a problem.”
Council Vice President Chuck Callahan pushed for a limited reopening of the lodging operations during an April 28 meeting, but he saw opposition from Price and Council President Corey Pack, who said they wanted to follow Hogan’s lead on easing business restrictions.
Callahan said his motivation to advocate for the change nearly one month ago was to help the rental operators who were hurting financially because of virus-fueled closures the county imposed March 31 — one day after Hogan issued a statewide stay-at-home directive — in order to deter non-locals from visiting and potentially spreading the virus.
The amendment Callahan proposed did not get the council’s approval in April, but Hogan has since lifted the stay-at-home order and launched Maryland into Stage One of its Roadmap to Recovery. The council members indicated their comfort level with easing the restrictions would align with the governor’s.
As for the county’s emergency declaration as a whole, Price said it will stay in place at the advice of Talbot Emergency Services Director Clay Stamp, and as long as the state’s state of emergency is in effect.
Stamp pointed out to the council during a recent meeting that the declaration is what allows the Emergency Operations Center to use its resources and respond effectively to the COVID-19 health crisis.
He said the order will need to remain active “probably for a while” as the county deals with the virus’s short- and long-term impacts.
Regarding the council’s impending decision on whether to ease short-term rental and B&B restrictions on Thursday, Price said the public will be allowed to call in and comment before the council’s vote.
A time for the meeting has not yet been set. More information will be provided as it becomes available.