As the days march on towards Dec. 30, when all funding associated with the CARES federal stimulus legislation must be spent, at least under current guidelines, the Town of Leesburg is hoping to leave no cent unspent.
This week, the Town Council approved a spending plan for its second round of distributions, as well as supplemental budget appropriations to account for the federal funding. The town is set to receive just under $10 million total, through two distributions of $4.7 million from Loudoun County, based on its population-based funding formula for the county’s towns. The Town Council has made it a priority to give the lion’s share of that funding to town-based businesses and nonprofits, and has just opened up a second round of applications for businesses seeking grants. Council members are hoping that the second round of funding will have more takers than the first, and have expanded funding tiers to allow smaller and larger town businesses to be eligible.
In the first round, the town was only able to distribute around $1.58 million in business grants out of the $3 million in total funds set aside for that purpose. The current application for business funding is open through Sept. 23, and Deputy Town Manager Keith Markel said the town will provide grants for eligible businesses with both the remaining $1.42 million balance from the first round of funding, and the additional just under $3 million set aside by the council in its recently adopted spending plan. As of Thursday morning, more than 30 businesses had already applied for a grant with the application only open since Tuesday, which Markel said was an encouraging sign. In the first round of funding, only 176 businesses received funding assistance.
The town also still has about $197,000 remaining in set aside funding for nonprofits that address the medical and financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In its first round of funding, 26 nonprofits received grants in varying amounts, up to a maximum of $50,000. Markel said town staff is working with those same 26 nonprofits to divvy up the remaining $197,000 among them. A new application for the additional $1 million in nonprofit funding is expected to open by the latter part of next week, Markel said, and will remain open for a couple of weeks. He said he expects many of the same 26 nonprofits will apply again.
In total, the town government has set aside just under $1.6 million for its own expenses related to the pandemic. Thus far, these funds have been spent on items like personal protective equipment, street closing and staffing related to the weekend outdoor dining promotion, and personnel costs. Markel noted during Tuesday’s council meeting that the town has used the CARES funds set aside for the town government to reimburse itself for staffing costs due to leave related to COVID-19, either with employees being sick themselves or caring for a loved one who is.
Also Tuesday, staff members said they were still gathering information about the possibility that CARES funding could be used to reimburse the town for staffing costs in the police department, both with patrol officers and dispatchers. Markel suggested that, after all funding is awarded for business and nonprofit grants, the council could scrutinize the remaining funds to determine if it would like some of that to go toward covering police staffing costs. As town revenues are expected to be significantly lower in the current fiscal year, because of decreases in consumer taxes, programming changes and facility closures, not to mention downtown parking fees being waived from mid-March through the end of the year, Markel said any CARES reimbursement for police department staffing costs could help to make up for some of that revenue shortfall.
Although that course of action has not been finalized, that idea did not fly with at least one council member, with Councilman Tom Dunn calling the proposal “a money grab.”
“Our government losses can be picked back up by having a vibrant economy. For the government to look for an opportunity to supplement shortfalls … government shortfalls don’t come anywhere close to the businesses that have suffered, employees that have suffered,” Councilman Tom Dunn said.
Dunn made a motion to give $1,000 to all town businesses, with no stipulations on annual gross revenue or any losses demonstrated during the pandemic, but did not receive a second.
The motion to approve the second round CARES spending plan passed by a 4-2 vote, with Dunn and Councilman Neil Steinberg abstaining. Both Dunn and Steinberg indicated they may apply for business grant funding from the town for their own small businesses.