The Williamsburg City Council on Thursday approved a resolution that would provide local businesses with the opportunities for grant funds to help mitigate the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
City Manager Andrew Trivette said the locality has been looking into ways it could provide relief to local businesses that direly needed it.
As a result, staff have constructed a “simple” program that enabled a defined set of locally-owned businesses to apply and potentially receive grants from the money allocated from the Tourism Development Fund.
It’s called the COVID-19 Business Relief Grant and uses part of the $4 million in re-designated funds from the Tourism Development Grant Fund, according to a news release from the city. This grant will allow the city’s development authority to award grants to local businesses as an attempt to offset the financial impacts of the pandemic.
Businesses can apply for the grant online and those that qualify will receive a grant valued at half their paid Business, Professional and Occupation taxes in 2019. The online application will be launched next week.
Trivette said businesses’ revenue earnings based on those taxes, which are submitted to the Commissioner of Revenue, will be secure and protected.
Filing must be done by June 1 and all awards will be processed by Aug. 31.
Grants will be awarded to qualifying businesses on a first-come-first-serve basis.
There is a certain set of criteria a business must meet in order to qualify. A business must be locally owned and it had to have been forced to close due to orders from Gov. Ralph Northam or the business was substantially impacted by the mitigation requirements of the pandemic.
“Tourism is the lifeblood of Williamsburg,” said Councilwoman Barbara Ramsey. “But it’s more than the attractions, we really need to have the businesses here…because that’s what people are going to come back for.”
City staff anticipate there to be a revenue deficit of $10.7 million for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 in the worst-case scenario as the coronavirus pandemic continues to keep many businesses shuttered
Trivette has revised the projected adjustments for fiscal year 2020 based on the lower balance in the tourism development fund. Previously, there had been a projected $1,178,861 in the fund but now there will be $1 million less.
However, that allocates $1 million more to the city’s reserve fund.
Trivette said staff felt it was important to preserve the city’s reserve fund as much as possible because it will carry the locality into fiscal year 2021.
“We also don’t know what the next emergency will be,” he said. “There could be impacts from [hurricane season] and the reserve will be that safety suction that allows the city to operate at the same level.”
But those projections are just estimates and there is the potential they might not become reality. The projections also don’t incorporate any state or federal funding that could come to help with the financial impacts of the pandemic, Trivette said.
“While we want to work hard to replenish that reserve amount…I don’t think it will be difficult in future years,” Trivette said.
City Council also approved a resolution that allows staff to apply for a Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development Block Grant of $165,203. This will allow the city to be reimbursed for any costs associated with emergency housing and food for residents during the COVID-19 State of Emergency.
Economic Development Director Michele DeWitt, said those funds will go to serve the city’s low to moderate income population.
While the city is already providing housing and food, the state funding will provide reimbursement for that since March until now and provide the opportunity for additional funding through June 30.
This resolution requires two public hearings, the second of which will be on May 14.
City Council also passed a resolution that addressed changes to May elections, which were postponed by Northam to May 19.
Instead of having two polling locations, voters in Williamsburg will cast their ballot at the Williamsburg Fire Station through a new drive-thru service.
Both precincts will be broken up between two bays at the fire station where voters can drive up based on their precinct and cast their ballot.
However, council members urged residents to vote absentee as much as possible.
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