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Sykesville council considering grant program for small businesses hurt by COVID-19 pandemic

Sykesville Town Council members and staff meet via the Zoom video conferencing platform April 27.
Sykesville Town Council members and staff meet via the Zoom video conferencing platform April 27.(Akira Kyles)

The Sykesville Town Council plans to introduce an emergency ordinance at its next meeting that could provide grants to small businesses in town.

Councilman Jeremiah Schofield introduced a draft of the proposal in the council’s April 27 meeting to establish a grant program with the state of Maryland for $50,000 that the town will match, totaling $100,000, for small businesses in Sykesville. The grants would each award up to $1,250 with no repayment, according to Schofield.

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The proposal was brought up Monday mainly for discussion purposes, to get input from the council so that if they decide move forward with the proposal, then could develop a more focused plan after hearing whatever concerns or objections they had, according to Joe Cosentini, Sykesville’s town manager.

“We all know that we’re sitting kind of in an unprecedented time; the COVID-19, coronavirus pandemic has definitely affected everywhere in the world, our state, our country and of course, our town,” Schofield said. “In getting ready to put together this proposal, we’re in extraordinary times — it seems like a time where it’s called for extraordinary measures. I will say that this is an unconventional thing. It’s not the normal everyday occurrence that a town like us would be doing something like this type of program.

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According to Schofield, there is a total of 74 small businesses in Sykesville, and Downtown Sykesville Connection conducted a poll of those businesses. About a third of those businesses, 25, responded to the poll; of those, 92% stated they have lost 50% or more of their revenue and 68% said they have lost 75% or more of their revenue.

In the discussion of the proposal, Mayor Ian Shaw mentioned the possibility of the first $50,000 as a loan — three years, with no interest — and then matching $25,000 for the grant.

Julie Della-Maria, executive director of Downtown Sykesville Connection, added that taking up a loan wouldn’t be helpful right now, based on numerous conversations with business owners.

Councilwoman Stacy Link was in support of a grant opportunity and mentioned the idea of introducing the proposal in the council’s May 11 meeting as an emergency ordinance, which the council decided to vote on.

Link made the motion for the proposal to be introduced as an emergency ordinance to be voted on at the next meeting, and Schofield seconded. The motion was approved, 5-2, with Shaw and Councilman Alan Grasley opposed.

Schofield motioned to vote on a letter of commitment saying the town would match the state’s $50,000 grant, Keenan seconded and it was approved, 4-3, with Carter, Grasley and Shaw opposed. Carter commented that she didn’t like the $50,000 amount. Shaw said he would prefer to offer loans to businesses for $2,500 along with grant funding, and Grasley said he is “not currently in favor of this kind of funding.”

Now, Cosentini will be taking some of the comments made during the discussion and some of the information from the Main Street coordinator has gathered from other communities and put together a package for the council to consider at the May 11 meeting. If the grant program is approved, the town funds would be distributed sometime after that meeting but the state funds would not be distributed until after June 1.

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