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Bristol Virginia City Council approves business grant funds

Bristol Virginia City Council approves business grant funds

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BRISTOL, Va. — The Bristol Virginia City Council allocated an additional $200,000 for small businesses impacted by COVID-19 Tuesday, bringing that total to $300,000.

The total represents about 10% of the $2.9 million of federal CARES Act funding the city received. They hope to finalize the application process and approve distributing those grant funds next month, City Manager Randy Eads said following the council meeting.

City leaders initially set aside $100,000 of its original $1.4 million CARES Act grant for businesses negatively impacted by the public health pandemic.

“This is more than we originally talked about and is based on the interest that we’ve seen with the applications that have come in and the hardships many of these businesses have suffered due to COVID,” Eads said.

Thus far, local businesses have requested about $248,000, Eads said. Grants are being restricted to businesses operating in the city with 10 or fewer employees. The application deadline is Sept. 30.

Those monies will be dispensed through the city’s Industrial Development Authority rather than the community development department, Eads told the council after speaking with other localities.

“We’ve had a good amount of interest, but I’d like for businesses to continue to apply,” Eads said. “Depending on the requests we may be able to expand that [total] after Sept. 30.”

The city is required to expend all the federal funds by Dec. 30 or return them. If any planned city orders appear unlikely to be filled this fall — due to nationwide demand on certain products — some of that money could also be directed to assist businesses.

Two IDA board members will work with city staff to ensure the applications meet all the requirements because all funds must be used to directly offset expenses brought on by the pandemic, Eads said. All applications will also be reviewed by the city’s finance department.

The IDA is scheduled to meet Oct. 5, Eads said, so a subsequent called meeting may be required to finalize approving the grants.

The council also approved disbursing an additional $780,000 in CARES Act funding. The total includes $80,000 to remodel fire department sleeping areas and $15,000 to remodel bunk areas at the jail — to reduce both contact and potential virus spread. Other expenses include $40,000 for air purifiers for the jail; $135,000 for hazard pay for police, fire and sheriff’s employees dealing with COVID issues; and $394,000 to the schools for ventilation improvements at school buildings and to purchase a special needs school bus to address COVID-related restrictions on spacing.

In other action, the council voted 4-0, with one member absent, to approve a plan to refinance $16.8 million in general obligation bond debt next month. The refinancing is expected to save the city about $150,000 annually in interest charges.

“It’s good anytime you can take advantage of a lower interest rate that we see in today’s environment, use that to save money, and we’re not extending the term,” Mayor Bill Hartley said. “Hopefully, as other opportunities come up, we can take advantage of this again in the future to save money.”

In other matters, the council spent about 45 minutes on its ongoing discussions of how best to fund Discover Bristol, the convention and visitors bureau. Members discussed using between 10% and 20% of city lodging tax revenue for that agency, plus Believe in Bristol and the Birthplace of Country Music.

Using the past fiscal year’s nearly $1.3 million in lodging tax as a starting point, a 10% allocation would represent more than $129,400 and be a 159% increase over current funding levels — but below some previous years.

Bristol Chamber President and CEO Beth Rhinehart called the 10% figure a “bare minimum” of what the council should consider. They also discussed an existing incentive program. No decision was reached.

dmcgee@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2532 | Twitter: @DMcGeeBHC 

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