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Sarasota City Hall
Sarasota Tuesday, Apr. 28, 2020 2 years ago

City plots COVID-19 economic assistance program

At next week’s City Commission meeting, officials will discuss dedicating $2.3 million to an initiative that would issue $5,000 grants to local businesses affected by COVID-19.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

As residents deal with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, city leaders are considering spending $2.3 million to support small businesses affected by the disease.

On Monday, the City Commission will discuss staff’s proposal for creating a Small Business and Safety Assistance Program. The proposal seeks to differentiate itself from other economic assistance programs at the federal, state and county levels by issuing $5,000 grants, rather than a loan, to qualifying businesses. If approved, the program could award more than 450 grants to city businesses.

Steve Stancel, general manager of the city’s office of economic development, outlined some details about the proposal in an April 23 memo to the City Commission. The memo states the concept was designed as a complement to programs such as the federal Paycheck Protection Program and the county's Small Business Resiliency Program.

“A critical bridge is needed to help small businesses as they await receipt of assistance from other federal, state and county programs and to help jump start their business as restrictions ease in the future,” an outline describing the proposal states.

The city grants would come with fewer restrictions on how businesses could spend the money. In addition to payroll and rent, the money could be used for personal protective equipment, other COVID-19 safety measures and “expenses deemed critical for business operations,” including inventory.

The city is proposing using existing economic development and tax-increment finance money to fund the program. Of the $2.28 million total, $1.35 million would come from the city's economic development fund, $210,609 would come from downtown TIF funds, and $724,000 would come from Newtown TIF funds. The TIF funding would only be allocated to businesses within the downtown and Newtown Community Redevelopment Agency area boundaries.

Proposed eligibility criteria would limit the grants to locally owned and independently operated businesses within city limits with 25 employees or fewer. In an interview today, City Manager Tom Barwin said officials were interested in providing assistance to businesses that may have struggled to obtain funds from other aid programs.

“These are folks who maybe don’t have high-powered attorneys and CPA offices backing them,” Barwin said.

To receive funds, businesses would have to outline a plan for how they intended to spend the funds. Application material would include verification of loss of revenue, federal tax forms and a current city business tax receipt.

The agenda for Monday’s commission meeting does not currently list a discussion of the assistance program. City officials said the proposal is in the process of being added to the agenda.

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