Leesburg businesses could get a third round of financial support before springtime hits.
The Leesburg Town Council last week unanimously approved a modified version of a business relief plan initially proposed by Councilman Zach Cummings. Cummings had proposed using $1.1 million from the town’s Unassigned Fund Balance for a variety of initiatives related to the economic impacts of, and eventual recovery from, the COVID-19 pandemic.
The council endorsed spending $25,000 to continue the outdoor dining program, in which the block of King Street between Loudoun and Market streets is closed to vehicular traffic to allow for expanded sidewalk dining. The allocation would allow for the block to be closed for 17 days, at a cost of $1,400 per day.
The council also supported what will be the third round of grants to town-based small businesses, following more than $3 million in funding support using CARES funding in the fall. Businesses with annual gross receipts between $25,000 and $749,999 will be eligible for a $5,000 grant, while those with revenue between $750,000 and $2.5 million may receive a $10,000 grant. Among the eligibility requirements to be considered for a grant, businesses must be able to demonstrate a 15% or greater decrease in gross receipts last year.
Council members said they hoped the grants would be doled out to local businesses quickly. A total of $500,000 was allocated for this latest grant program.
“This is emergency aid,” Councilman Ara Bagdasarian said. “We need to move expeditiously because we’re in the middle of winter and there are businesses in crisis now.”
Deputy Town Manager Keith Markel said the town staff was working on putting together the new grant program now, and hopes to have the application open in the next couple of weeks.
“We are working with the county [Economic Development Authority] now to get a new memorandum of agreement to allow them to distribute the grant funds (as required by state law). That will hopefully be approved in late February by the EDA, so the earliest grant funds could be available to businesses would be in early March,” Markel said.
The approved resolution also allocated $50,000 for additional business marketing and outreach, and to spruce up the Economic Development Department website.
The council did not move forward on some of Cummings’ other suggestions, including a $25,000 earmark for the Small Business Development Center, and freezing the collection of business penalties or late fees.
Prior to their vote Jan. 26, council members had several questions on how the $575,000 in approved funding would affect the upcoming fiscal year 2022 budget, expected to be presented to the council next week.
“I wouldn’t want to do anything that would endanger the budget to the point where we have to raise taxes,” Councilwoman Suzanne Fox said. “Giving our businesses who have received help in the past but at the expense of the individual taxpayer … that would concern me. There’s not much that’s been done for the individual [taxpayer] through this whole thing.”
Town Manager Kaj Dentler noted that he will not be proposing a tax rate increase for the upcoming fiscal year budget. The current General Fund deficit for the fiscal year 2021 deficit stands at $5.2 million, or 8% of the fund’s budget. That is down from a previously projected $7 million to $8 million deficit, Dentler said.
“We’ll close the deficit but you need to understand you’ve got a lot of operations that aren’t able to get done, so we’re not out of the woods,” he said. “At the end of the fiscal year one way or the other we will clearly close the deficit. The budget will be presented on a balanced basis.”