MANSFIELD – Small businesses in Richland County will be able to get some financial help with COVID-related expenses through a program approved Thursday by the county commissioners.
The board voted unanimously to sign a contract with Richland Area Chamber and Economic Development to administer a program that will use $250,000 of the county’s $2 million dollar federal CARES Act allocation from the state to provide grants to businesses with up to 20 employees as well as sole proprietorships that had $1.5 million or less income in 2019.
Applications can be made online through the chamber’s website, tentatively starting Aug. 31. The current maximum for grants is $5,000 for a business and $2,000 for a sole proprietorship.
Businesses will be asked for a variety of information, including the impact of COVID on the operation, the length of time in business, the number of full time equivalent jobs, if the business is minority, veteran or woman owned, and the financial impact on the business.
“Those are the broad areas we’re looking at,” said Chamber President/CEO Jodie Perry. “The goal is to try to save as many jobs as we can.”
She also told the board that more detailed information will be posted online along with a sample application. Staff will be on hand at the chamber to answer any questions.
Before the vote, commissioners and Perry discussed the maximum amount of each grant, how the money will be distributed around the county and whether other county jurisdictions will be able to or will be interested in contributing some of their CARES allocations. The City of Mansfield is working with the chamber on a similar contract using $275,000 from the city’s share of CARES dollars but with a proposed $10,000 cap per business.
Commissioner Darrell Banks pointed out that many of the small jurisdictions might not have CARES money left over after dealing with their own needs. Village allocations range from $22,000 to $41,000.
“I would suggest we set what we think is right and we go with that figure, whatever it is, and as far as the villages and that, I wouldn’t even touch it at this time,” Banks said. “If they want to come back and work with you (Perry) we can work it out. For right now, let’s do what we know we can get done.”
Commissioners agreed that the city and county programs should be aligned, with Banks suggesting that the grant limits be set at $3,000 for sole proprietorships and $7,000 for larger businesses for both. Regarding how the pots of money would be divided, Perry said the plan is to follow recommendations from the City of Akron and Summit County, which have their own program on which the local plan is based.
“The recommendation is to take the top scoring businesses first and use the county money and then, if we have jurisdictional money, we’ll look at jurisdictional businesses that are eligible,” Perry said. “We want to help as many businesses as possible, and we are talking with other jurisdictions.”
Officials expect to have more applications than money available. They said the issue could be addressed if the state allocates more CARES money to local government, which still is being discussed in Columbus. Local CARES allocations must be accrued by Oct. 15 and spent by Dec. 30.
In other business, commissioners decided not to take any action on a proposal by a local businessman to put lighted, multi-color Christmas trees on the courthouse lawn for this year’s holiday. Scott Trumpower of Innovation in Light asked the board last week to consider a plan to decorate the courthouse lawn with around 100 multi-colored Christmas trees at a cost of $18,865. The display would be similar to one put up last year at Kingwood Center Gardens.
Commissioners said they did not want to spend the money in light of the fact that the county has lost expected revenue this year due to the economic effects of the COVID pandemic. “Twenty-thousand dollars for Christmas lights is a lot of money to begin with but especially in a year like this when we’ve asked department heads and elected officials to tighten their belts,” said Commissioner Tony Vero. “I think it would be a bad look to turn around and spend $20,000 on Christmas lights.”
Vero said Trumpower did a good job with the Kingwood Center display and that the county could possibly do a scaled down version of his proposal for the courthouse in 2021 if the county comes into more revenue than anticipated. Commissioners emphasized that they did not seek proposals for Christmas lights and that Trumpower approached the board. They said they were required by law to discuss the proposal in open session.