Littleton city government is prepared to make its largest outlay yet of federal money to assist businesses and organizations impacted by the novel coronavirus. City council approved the allocation of …
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Littleton city government is prepared to make its largest outlay yet of federal money to assist businesses and organizations impacted by the novel coronavirus.
City council approved the allocation of more than a half-million dollars in grant money to businesses and nonprofits at its Aug. 4 meeting, earmarking $375,000 to assist struggling businesses, plus $200,000 to help nonprofits.
Watch the Aug. 4 city council meeting.
The funds come from more than $4.4 million in federal money allocated to the city via Arapahoe County, which is distributing income from the federal CARES Act to municipalities.
The grants will come directly out of the city’s general fund, said City Manager Mark Relph, and city officials will submit invoices to the county for reimbursement.
The move comes after the city sent out two prior waves of relief funds to local businesses over the summer, allocating 109 grants of $2,500 each, totaling $272,500.
The city spent an additional $100,000 of the funds on the Weekends on Main program, a sort of indirect business grant that facilitated outdoor dining on Main Street in June and July.
‘Nobody is unscathed’
The new grants will be the largest yet.
Businesses will be able to apply for business interruption grants of up to $10,000, which can cover lease or mortgage payments, payroll, inventory and supplies necessary to operate the business; or business infrastructure and PPE grants of up to $20,000, which can cover expenses to comply with public health orders, including building modifications, touchless payment systems, online ordering platforms, personal protective equipment and safety training.
One business could theoretically receive both grants for a total of up to $30,000, said Denise Stephens, the city’s director of economic development, who is overseeing the program. She said businesses must meet a variety of criteria, and staff will work to prevent duplicate grants from the city and the county.
Stephens said she feels the business grant program has been going well so far.
“I’m really happy council had the foresight to extend this program,” Stephens said. “The need continues. Nobody is unscathed by this.”
‘Making a lot of difference’
The grants have been effective at helping local businesses weather the storm, said Pat Dunahay, the co-president of the Littleton Business Chamber.
“These businesses are hurting,” Dunahay said. “Things are stable at the moment, but many businesses in town are off by 20 to 40%. If there’s another shutdown, there are a lot of business owners who say they might not make it. These grants are making a lot of difference, and we’re glad to see they’ll continue.”
Dunahay said he finds it frustrating that current federal rules prohibit the city from using CARES Act funding to backfill budget shortages from declining sales tax revenue.
“We have to take care of our town,” he said. “We’ve got to keep up on roads, police and everything else that makes this an effective place to run a business and an attractive place to visit.”
Still, Dunahay said there are reasons to be optimistic, including a trio of new restaurants opening in south Littleton and a new T-shirt shop opening on Main Street.
“We should recognize, though, that federal money won’t be enough to keep businesses afloat,” he said. “We’ll have to stay focused and work together to get through this winter. As a community, we need to support local business. Keep your dollars on this side of C-470.”
A ‘daunting level of need’
The nonprofit grants could prove vital to helping stabilize groups that render important services, said Kathryn Roy, the director of Love Inc., a human services organization that collaborates with other charities in the Littleton area.
The grants, which range from $1,000 to $10,000, can be used for employee salaries, utilities, purchase of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies and other uses directly related to pandemic impacts.
Roy said while many local nonprofits can always use an infusion of cash to go directly to their programming, the grants will be useful in making sure nonprofits are on solid ground as needs grow.
“We’re expecting a really daunting level of need this winter,” Roy said. “We’re trying to use this time to gear up, and we’re constantly finding new things we need to do.”
The federal expanded unemployment program has helped soften the blow of pandemic-related hardships, Roy said, and with the program in limbo, she worries a wave of new troubles is on the horizon.
“Homelessness is only going to grow,” she said. “So is the incredible cost of child care. City grants will help us be in a position to help address these issues, but it’s really going to take a concerted effort from nonprofits, government, businesses and individuals to help our neighbors in need. We all have to be part of the solution.”
In it for the long haul
Meanwhile, the city is allocating significant portions of the funds toward improvements to city-owned buildings, infrastructure and technology to be compliant with public health orders.
Relph said it’s incumbent on officials to ensure the business of government can continue in an ever-changing landsape.
“We’ve got 30 some-odd buildings, and we’re looking at all of them, working on getting them compliant with social distancing,” Relph said. “The library, museum and city hall all need work. People need to be able to use the facilities and functions their tax dollars pay for.”
The upgrades include a nearly million-dollar overhaul of city council chambers, which Relph said proved impossible to quickly retrofit to comply with social distancing orders that could drag on for a long time to come.
The improvements include a laundry list of upgrades to other city buildings, including installing physical barriers, and buying personal protective equipment, decontamination systems and thermal scanners that check people for fever.
Another big focus: facilitating employees to work from home with new laptops, software licenses, enhancements to the phone system, and audiovisual technology to support myriad departments and functions.
Relph said the upgrades are in keeping with the intent of the federal funds.
“The CARES Act is very specific in its intentions,” Relph said. “The purposes include upgrading municipal facilities to ensure continued and functional public access. It’s not intended 100% for business grants. We’re trying to strike a balance.”
After the business and nonprofit grants and upgrades to city facilities, the city will still have roughly $1.7 million of the initial $4.4 million CARES Act outlay, according to city documents, and Relph said officials are working on what to do with it.
Current regulations mandate the city to spend the funds by the end of the year, which Relph called a tight timeline to make sure the money is used in the best possible manner.
The city is facing a budget shortfall of millions this year. City officials announced seven layoffs, mostly from the library, on Aug. 7.
Some confusion remains, Relph said, including inadequate and conflicting information from the federal Treasury Department on whether CARES Act funds can be used for payroll costs related to the pandemic, such as overtime for police who manned an emergency operations center in the early months of the novel coronavirus.
“These are expenses we hadn’t budgeted for,” Relph said. “The guidelines keep changing. We’re trying to be patient. We’re in this for the long haul.”
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