The Town of Middleburg is poised to spend nearly $182,000 to help its residents, restaurants and nonprofits during a time of financial uncertainty.
The Town Council on Thursday night voted unanimously to approve a four-piece financial relief package that will provide the town’s nearly 500 utility customers with $200 credits, provide residents with $20 meal vouchers, give restaurants more time to remit money collected via the 4-percent meals tax and contribute $16,750 to three area nonprofit organizations—all in an effort to stimulate the local economy and offer financial help amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has shuttered businesses and left many people out of work.
The total $181,750 will be pulled from the town’s Health Center Fund, which was established to fund charitable efforts in the community. According to the draft Fiscal Year 2021 budget, that fund’s total net position was $891,229 as of June 30, 2019. Mayor Bridge Littleton said the town would pay the money back over the next two to three years.
In addition to vowing to not shut water service off for customers who can’t pay their bills, and to waive associated late fees, the town will also credit utility customers $200 on their May utility bills. That is a one-time credit, meaning those whose bills come in less than $200 will owe the town noting on their next bills, but will be obligated to pay their bills on the next cycle. If the town had issued the credits in the last billing cycle, they would have paid out $65,000 to utility customers, given the range of bills that came in between $200 and $1,000.
That utility relief was granted because, according to a staff report, the town anticipates that water customers’ bills will be higher than in prior years because many residents are spending more time at home and washing their hands more frequently.
Town Administrator Danny Davis said the town could reverse individual credits to use to help the broader community if some utility customers are comfortable paying their bills in full. He said residents can also donate money to the Health Center Fund to help the community as needed.
The town will also purchase up to $100,000 worth of $20 meal vouchers to distribute to residents to use between now and April 30 at any restaurant that has partnered with the town and is open at least four days a week for at least two meals a day. The town will purchase up to 500 vouchers—$10,000 worth—at each participating restaurant.
Davis said the town would mail the vouchers, which Mr. Print will create for a few hundred dollars, to each residential utility customer. Davis said the town staff would “do a little digging” to find and send vouchers to residents who don’t have utility bills. Littleton noted that each customer would most likely receive one voucher from each participating restaurant.
Residents must spend the full $20 at each restaurant and will not be allowed to spend less than that amount to save the change to pay for another meal at a later date.
Littleton said he talked to restaurant owners who were planning to close this week but resolved to stay open through the end of April in light of the town’s meal voucher program.
“It is going to have immediate impact on some of the businesses being able to keep their doors open,” he said, noting that the vouchers should be sent out within the next few days.
During the April 23 Town Council meeting, the council will assess the effectiveness of the voucher program and decide if it should purchase more.
The council also voted to defer penalties on payment of the meals tax through June 30. The town will still charge interest on all late payments—10-percent annually, or 0.833-percent each month—to ensure that each restaurant remits the taxes “within a reasonable period of time,” according to a staff report. Restaurants are also still required to submit their gross receipts by the 20th of each month to give the town an idea of how much they owe.
The town’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget expects to bring in about $1 million in meals tax revenue, meaning the town will temporarily miss out on close to $260,000, but hopes to recoup that loss once restaurants remit the meals tax, and with interest.
Last in the relief package list is an $8,750 town donation to the Visit Loudoun Foundation’s Tourism & Hospitality Relief Fund at the Community Foundation for Loudoun and Northern Fauquier Counties to assist hospitality industry employees during the coronavirus crisis. Although Visit Loudoun indicated that it did not intend to ask the town for its fourth quarter membership payment because both lodging properties in town are closed, the town recognized that restaurant and lodging staffers are “significantly challenged in this time,” according to a staff report.
The town will additionally donate $4,000 to Middleburg FISH—a nonprofit assisted by the Emmanuel Episcopal Church that provides temporary financial assistance to those in need—to aid its work supporting about 53 families amid the pandemic for the next 10 weeks, and another $4,000 to the Seven Loaves Services food pantry to support its online food purchase and delivery. The food pantry serves about 100 families each week through that program.
The town will also donate up to $2,000 to the Backpack Buddies Foundation, which provides weekend food to students in need, if the nonprofit requests the money after Davis contacts its leaders.
Littleton labeled the relief package as “substantial and incredibly meaningful.”
“I think that’s going to be really meaningful for so many people,” he said. “It’s what Middleburg’s about.”