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Town Council votes down budget amendment aimed at providing micro-grants to Mount Airy businesses

Mount Airy Town Council discusses an emergency budget amendment.
Mount Airy Town Council discusses an emergency budget amendment.(Akira Kyles)

A budget amendment aimed at helping Mount Airy businesses navigate the COVID-19 crisis failed on a 3-2 vote.

The Mount Airy Town Council held an emergency, virtual meeting Friday evening to discuss an emergency budget amendment that would’ve provided emergency micro-grants to small businesses.

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The amendment would’ve added $36,230 to the General Fund Operating Budget and would’ve given $50,000 to town business owners, awarding $1,000 each to 50 businesses. Amendment ordinance 2020-16 was motioned by Councilmember Pamela Reed and seconded by Councilmember Jason Poirier.

“Many businesses have been negatively impacted by COVID-19, suffering great financial hardships and uncertainty,” said Reed during the meeting. “Many of these businesses have not been able to obtain funding through state and federal programs.

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“There is no guarantee that this small amount will ensure their survival, but we are in these positions to preserve the best interests of the community and I truly believe it is in the best interest of the community to offer pandemic relief to our small businesses and show our support to them. Our small businesses are the engine that drives out local economy; they bring conveniences, growth and innovation.”

Poirier wasn’t sold on businesses getting only $1,000.

“One thousand dollars goes very quickly in a small business and my only concern is that it wouldn’t necessarily keep them afloat," he said.

Poirier added that instead of 50 businesses getting $1,000, he would like to see something like 10 to 15 businesses getting increased funding to help the longevity of the business.

Reed said she would support the alternative proposal because “any relief that we can provide shows our community that we support our businesses."

Councilmember Larry Hushour had an issue with agreeing to approve money for the proposal without it going through the Economic Development Commission and likened it to sending money to have a car built and picking up whatever was made.

Mayor Patrick Rockinberg responded to Hushour that the money could be approved and the specifics worked out later, as has been done in the past.

Councilmember Patricia Washabaugh reminded the council that she has been against the grant idea and would prefer a loan that could later be forgiven, adding that she thought Rockinberg felt the same. Rockinberg responded by saying he would prefer a loan program, but the grant would be a second-best option.

Councilmember Karl Munder said he was concerned about the $1,000 amount as well and the fact that not many other municipalities were doing this.

“I would rather support a program that actually makes sure the businesses stay in business, not give them $1,000 that might just cover a fifth of their rent or something,” said Munder.

Before voting, Hushour added that more information was needed and that the program hadn’t been fully vetted, especially since they don’t know how many businesses are eligible to receive it.

Everyone expressed that they wanted to help small businesses in town but wanted to make sure to do it in the best way.

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Ultimately, Poirier made a motion for an amendment for $50,000 to go to 25 business based on need, a loan that would be deferred for two years and then forgiven after two years if they are still in business, that would go through the Economic Development Commission. Reed agreed to the amended motion.

Hushour again stated that we wasn’t comfortable with approving the money and didn’t feel like they knew anything on the program.

The amendment failed, with Houshour, Munder and Washabaugh opposed.

Rockinberg encouraged the council to bring some ideas for plans to help town businesses to the June town council meeting.

Reed had hoped something could’ve been accomplished at the emergency meeting.

“I’m incredibly disappointed,” she said. “We had an opportunity here at least to start the motion forward to help our businesses and we didn’t.”

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