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County refines business grant program

Tim Croft

Pending state approval, the Board of County Commissioners may soon be able to provide businesses struggling under the COVID-19 pandemic a little economic jolt.

The Board of County Commissioners, during a special meeting Tuesday, approved a refined plan to use federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide grants to local businesses.

“This has a better spread of the money,” said Jim McKnight, executive director of the county’s Economic Development Coalition.

“This also gives our valued businesses who have struggled to stay open or are trying to open a chance to survive.”

The Florida Department of Emergency Management must still approve the plan, which would use some of the over $600,000 earmarked for the county from CARES Act funds.

The BOCC is also using over $200,000 of those dollars to purchase a new fully-equipped ambulance, a vehicle the county has badly needed.

Commissioners approved that purchase Tuesday.

The FDEM had some issues with the county’s initial business grant plan, McKnight said, particularly provisions that tied the grants to property taxes.

The new grant plan is straightforward with varying grant amounts depending on number of full-time equivalent employees.

Businesses with 2 to 10 FTEs would be eligible for a $2,500 grant; businesses with 11-25 FTEs would be eligible for a grant of $5,000; and businesses with 25 or more FTE employees would be eligible for up to $7,500.

“The emergency relief is targeted specifically to help local businesses cover immediate financial needs,” the county’s plan reads.

“Funds can only be used to reimburse costs of business interruption caused by required closures provided these costs are not paid by insurance.”

The business must be locally or independently owned, occupy commercial space in Gulf County, document losses from the pandemic since March 1 and has an expectation of returning to full operations after all local and state emergency COVID-19 mandates have been lifted.

In addition, companies must provide a business license showing the company registered in Gulf County, any city licenses where applicable and any required license from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Each applicant would be limited to one application and home-based, non-profits and publicly-traded businesses are not eligible.

Eligible businesses include restaurants, bars and other businesses, such as gyms, that were impacted by state or local emergency orders related to COVID-19.

“This money has to be obligated by the end of the year,” said County Administrator Michael Hammond. “This should stimulate the local economy for employers.”

This is a grant program, McKnight said, and there is no payback required of those who receive funding.

Hammond said the county would pursue requests for qualifications for an entity to administer the program this week, with actions pending the FDEM approval.

The administrator of the program will accept applications and required documents.

The application process should take about 10-15 minutes, McKnight said.