Business Briefs – January 2021

Check stimulus payment status online

The Internal Revenue service advises people to visit irs.gov to check the status of their second Economic Impact Payment.

The IRS and the Treasury Department began issuing the latest stimulus payments in early January, with electronic deposits appearing before the scheduled payment date of Jan. 4. Paper checks will be mailed through January.

Eligible recipients do not need to take any action to receive the payments, which are automatic. People should not contact their financial institutions or the IRS about timing of the payments.


Franklin County assessor hands in his resignation

Franklin County’s elected assessor has resigned midway through his first term.

Peter McEnderfer, who worked in the assessor’s office for nearly two decades before being elected to the top job in 2018, announced his resignation at the Jan. 5 county commission meeting, held by telephone.

McEnderfer said he would wrap up work related to property tax collections in 2021 but would leave on Jan. 31 and would not be available after that date. McEnderfer previously worked under Steve Marks and ran unopposed after Marks retired.

McEnderfer, a Republican, cited the excessive demands of the office, lack of resources and the “current political climate” in Franklin County for his decision.

The announcement seemed to catch Commissioner Clint Didier, newly tapped to chair the board, by surprise but he wished McEnderfer well as he moves into private life.

Keith Johnson, the county administrator, said McEnderfer was not asked or encouraged to resign. There are no complaints against him, and he has not leveled any complaints toward others, Johnson confirmed.

Under state law, the county commission will appoint an assessor from a list of candidates developed by the Franklin County Republican Party. An interim assessor could be appointed to oversee the department after McEnderfer departs at the end of the month. No decision had been made as of the deadline for this publication.

The assessor plays a key role in setting tax rates for the county’s 809,600 acres, or 1,242 square miles.

The assessor is required by law to set the value at 100% of market value. The $91.6 million levied in 2020 was collected for various taxing entities, including state and county government, schools, fire districts, ports, cemetery districts and other public functions.

McEnderfer said he would complete the levy calculation process before he departs.

His term expires in 2022.


Chamber sends $600K to businesses in crisis

Dozens of Franklin County businesses in crisis because of Covid-19 closures received $600,000 in support through the Franklin County Rapid Response Business Grants, funded by the federal CARES Act.

The Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce administered the program, with money distributed in October and November.

The chamber received 137 applications. A panel met weekly for five weeks to review the list, awarding $120,000 each week.

The Franklin County grant is closed but struggling businesses can find ongoing support at the chamber’s Covid-19 Business Resource Guide, which is updated weekly to reflect current funding programs. Go to bit.ly/CovidGrantList.


 Governor delays plastic bag ban

A ban on single-use plastic bags didn’t take effect on Jan. 1 as originally planned.

As expected, Gov. Jay Inslee delayed implementation of the law, which passed in the Legislature in 2020. The delay recognizes supply issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The delay is effective through Jan. 30, setting the stage for the ban to take effect on Feb. 1.

The ban gives retailers a year to use up their existing inventories as they switch over to paper bags. It requires retailers to levy a charge for bags as well.


State’s minimum wage is now $13.69 an hour

Washington’s minimum wage for hourly workers rose to $13.69 per hour on Jan. 1, a 1.39% increase tied to the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers.

Wages earned in 2020 but paid in 2021 are calculated at the old rate, according to the state Department of Labor and Industries.

The minimum wage applies to workers age 16 and older. Employers may pay 85% of the wage to workers age 14 and 15, or $11.64 per hour for 2021.

The new salary threshold for exempt employees is $42,712 a year for businesses with 50 or fewer employees and $49,831 for those with 51 or more employees.

Go to lni.wa.gov for information about Washington wage requirements.


PPP expenses are now deductible on taxes

Some expenses related to securing loans under the Paycheck Protection Program are now deductible.

The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service have issued guidance that expenses that result in forgiveness of a loan are deductible.

The new ruling reflects changes to the Tax Relief Act of 2020, enacted as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021, which was signed on Dec. 21.

The act amends the federal CARES Act to say that no deduction is denied, no tax attribute is reduced and no basis increase is denied by reason of exclusion from gross income of the forgiveness of a PPP loan.

The change applies for taxable years that end after March 27, 2020. Go to irs.gov for more information.


Trios adds online scheduling option

Trios Health has launched online scheduling for appointments with primary care providers.

Patients can use the schedule site to make appointments with family medicine, internal medicine and pediatric providers. It is available to existing and new patients.

Go to trioshealth.org/find-a-doctor.


Longtime civic leader dies at age 73

Edward J. “Ed” Allen, a longtime Tri-City civic leader, died Dec. 30, 2020. He was 73.

Named Kennewick Man of the Year in 2002, Allen also served as the 2008 chairman of the board of the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, the year it partnered with the Tri-City Development Council and Visit Tri-Cities to build the Tri-Cities Business & Visitor Center in Kennewick.

The chamber noted it was a pivotal year in another way as well. The board led the transition to new leadership when it hired the current president, Lori Mattson.

“Ed’s larger than life personality and business acumen made for an exceptional community leader – he will be greatly missed,” the chamber posted on Facebook.

Allen was a founder of the Kennewick Public Facilities District and co-founder of the Columbia Center Rotary Mountaineers, which formed to inspire members to climb a nearby peak each year and raise money for charitable causes. It supported Grace Clinic in its first year.

He also was an active supporter of Friends of Badger Mountain.

He is survived by his wife, Celeste.

Einan’s at Sunset is in charge of the arrangements.


Lamb Weston looks to vaccine-fueled recovery

Lamb Weston Holdings Inc. anticipates demand for its frozen potato products from restaurants may approach pre-pandemic levels by late 2021 if vaccines and other containment measures help control the virus and restrictions are lifted.

The Idaho company with substantial Mid-Columbia operations reported second quarter net income of $97 million on $896 million sales for its 2020 fiscal year. Net sales were down 12% compared to the same quarter in 2020 and volumes declined 14%.

Earnings per share were 66 cents, down 31%. The company said it would resume its share repurchase program in January.

Lamb Weston attributed the declines to falling demand for frozen potato products – french fries – outside the home following government-imposed restrictions on restaurants and other food service operations.

Cold weather, which limits outdoor dining, impacted demand as well.

“We are optimistic that the availability of Covid-19 vaccines will enable a gradual return to normalcy as the year progresses, but we expect to continue to face difficult and volatile operating conditions until the virus is broadly contained,” said Tom Werner, president and CEO, in an earnings announcement released Jan. 7.



UTC staff recommends $7.2M fine over 911 outage

CenturyLink faces a potential $7.2 million penalty from Washington regulators for failures that led to the loss of 911 service for more than two days in 2018.
Staff of the Utilities and Transportation Commission are recommending the penalty for more than 72,000 violations of telecommunications regulations and laws to the commission, which is not bound to follow it.
The nationwide outage began on Dec. 27, 2018, and left Washington residents without 911 emergency services for almost 50 hours.
A UTC investigation estimated 24,000 911 calls in Washington were not transmitted, based on an average of 12,000 completed 911 calls per day. Staff had to estimate the number of lost calls because CenturyLink did not provide the failed-call data requested.
The investigation blamed the outage on preventable technical errors, including failing to build safeguards into routing infrastructure that prolonged the outage.
The company previously paid a $2.8 million penalty for a 911 outage that disrupted services for six hours in 2014.



Boeing agrees to pay $2.5B to resolve 737 MAX fraud charges

The Boeing Co. Has agreed to pay more than $2.5 billion to resolve criminal charges to defraud the Federal Aviation Administration’s Aircraft Evaluation Grup in connection with its evaluation of the troubled 737 MAX airplane.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced the agreement, which defers prosecution, on Jan. 7.
The Chicago-based aircraft manufacturer faced one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. in U.S. District Court for Northern Texas.
Boeing admitted that through two of its technical pilots it deceived federal regulators about the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System that affected flight control systems. As a result, airplane manuals and pilot-training materials for U.S.-based airlines lacked information about MCAS.
The penalty includes a criminal monetary penalty of $243.6 million, $1.77 billion to customers of the 737 MAX and $500 million to the heirs and estates of the 346 passengers who died in crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 after the MCAS systems activated during flight.

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