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Carroll County expands coronavirus relief funding to service organizations with restaurants, service-oriented businesses

With time running out for the county to divvy out federal money for small businesses and state money for restaurants, the Carroll County Board of County Commissioners elected to expand the pool for both.

Late last month, the county was given $1.2 million from the state to dole out through the Carroll County Restaurant Relief program and $500,000 to allocate to businesses through the federal CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund. In each case, the money must be spent by the end of 2020.

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The commissioners voted unanimously Thursday morning to make service organizations with commercial kitchens eligible for the restaurant funding and service-oriented businesses eligible for the CARES Act funding.

Jack Lyburn, the county’s economic development director, told the commissioners the county has issued 99 awards for a total of $694,000 to restaurants, an average of about $7,000 to each establishment, leaving them with a balance of $516,000. He said in the last two days, his office has contacted 70 other restaurants to encourage them to apply. He said it “looks like we’ll be close” in terms of finding recipients for the rest of the funds by the end of December.

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Lyburn went on to say 51 retail establishments had been distributed awards totaling $181,000, leaving a balance of $319,000 from the most recent CARES Act funding.

“At this rate, we’re not going to hit $500,000,” Lyburn said.

The criteria for eligible stores and shops was that they sell consumer goods and products as their primary activity. He noted that 43 applications had been denied for service-oriented small businesses such as auto repair shops, nail salons, dance studios, dental offices and travel agencies, among others.

“Why don’t we just open up to service business as well?” Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, asked.

“We can do that,” Lyburn said, noting those businesses could be made eligible and that would be a way to ensure more of the money goes to Carroll County establishments.

Initially, there was talk of giving priority to the 43 businesses that had been turned down, but Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, said he didn’t think it would fair to give those businesses preferential treatment over other businesses that had not applied under the correct-at-the-time presumption that they weren’t eligible. Home businesses are not eligible.

That spurred discussion as to whether nonprofits such as service organizations that have been struggling during the coronavirus pandemic could be eligible for the federal money. Because of the federal stipulations, it was decided that no, they would not be.

“Is there a way we can be creative?” Rothstein asked.

Talk turned to the fact that many American Legion and VFW posts as well as the likes of the Elks Club and Moose Lodge effectively act as restaurants and have been hurt by the pandemic.

“If they’ve got a commercial kitchen in their facility, they should be eligible for the funding,” Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said.

Consensus was that such organizations would, indeed, qualify for the restaurant relief program. Lyburn said his office would encourage them to apply.

“We can reach out to them right away,” he said. “That’s easy.”

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Service-providing businesses and service organizations with commercial kitchens may apply for funding beginning Monday, Nov. 23 at noon.

Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, asked whether the money could be used to help food pantries, but was told they would not qualify under the funding guidelines.

County Administrator Roberta Windham said the goal is to have a financial report regarding the distribution of funds to the commissioners on Dec. 10.

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