Leesburg’s business and nonprofit community look to be the beneficiaries of the town’s federal stimulus money.
As part of the CARES Act federal stimulus legislation, the town is expected to receive $4.7 million from Loudoun County. Monday night, during their first work session in almost three months, council members considered how best to allocate that funding.
The town staff has proposed a three-prong plan that would dedicate $3 million of that funding to town businesses, by way of $5,000 grants to 600 eligible businesses; $1 million to nonprofits that demonstrate a measurable positive impact to the Leesburg community and focus on helping community members who have been financially or medically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; and $797,000 to support ongoing town operations related to the pandemic. On the latter point, these funds would cover the purchase of personal protective equipment for town employees; building modifications to adhere to social distancing; reimbursements for enhanced technology the town government has had to purchase for teleworking and virtual meetings; and marketing programs to support town businesses.
The funding could also be used to support outdoor dining, and council members asked whether money could be used to support a closure of the block of King Street between Loudoun and Market streets during First Friday, such as for the popular Stroll the Street event. Each street closure costs the town around $1,910 for staffing.
It was the funding for small businesses that took up the largest part of the debate Monday night. Deputy Town Manager Keith Markel presented the town staff’s recommended criteria, which would limit eligible businesses to those with gross annual earnings between $50,000 and $1 million; that have between 0 and 50 employees, to include sole proprietorships; that show a 35-percent or greater decline in sales; and that are in good standing with the town as of March 1.
Markel said of the 2,300 businesses in town, staff members estimate about 1,100 of those fall within the recommended range for gross annual earnings. As businesses would need to fill out an application to be considered for the funding, priority would be given to those who did not already receive similar grants from the county government. If more than 600 businesses apply for funding, a random drawing would be held.
Several council members questioned whether the bar town staff set for qualifying gross annual earnings should be lowered for businesses with earnings below $50,000. Councilman Tom Dunn also pointed out that $5,000 is likely to have a bigger impact on a business with earnings closer to $50,000 than $1 million.
Some on the council urged staff to be a more creative in the recommended eligibility structure for businesses.
“Try to think a little outside of the box,” said Vice Mayor Marty Martinez.
The council was expected to vote to accept the CARES funding from the county at its Tuesday meeting. Funding could be awarded to qualifying businesses and nonprofits as early as July, with an application process likely opening up later this month. Markel said the staff could fine tune its recommendations to suit the council’s wishes on business eligibility for funding.