BERLIN – Worcester County Back to Business grant applications are now being accepted.
The Worcester County Commissioners this week approved the grant program that will disburse $2.18 million to local businesses affected by COVID-19. Approval came after the removal of questions deemed to be too subjective by the commissioners.
“My concern is we want this to be fair across the board,” said Commissioner Chip Bertino.
Tom Perlozzo, director of recreation, parks, tourism and economic development, presented the commissioners on Tuesday with an updated grant application as well as plans to have BEACON (Business Economic and Community Outreach Network at Salisbury University) and a committee of area residents (the Economic Development Advisory Board) review applications. Though the county received $2.28 million in CARES Act funding to provide grants, staff expect $100,000 of that will be spent on administration. The majority of that — $60,000 — will go to BEACON. The commissioners were quick to ask whether BEACON was integral to the program. Perlozzo said that contracting with BEACON would provide a third-party viewpoint.
“From that standpoint BEACON is necessary,” he said.
Bertino expressed concern regarding a few questions on the application that were subjective rather than objective.
“I just don’t feel government should put conditions upon funding based on something that quite truthfully isn’t fair across the board,” he said, making a motion to remove three subjective questions from the application.
The commissioners approved the motion to eliminate the three questions referenced unanimously. Commissioner Jim Bunting reiterated the concerns regarding hiring BEACON. He said he hated to see $60,000 of the CARES funding not going to the public.
“I think that is not a proper use of that money,” he said.
Lachelle Scarlato, deputy director of economic development, said BEACON would be sorting, filtering and following up the applications submitted more efficiently than staff and committee members could. She added that committee members were set to receive $50 a meeting and would require more meetings if they had more work to do.
Bunting continued to have reservations.
“I’m not going to say what I have on my mind, but I don’t have a lot of faith,” he said.
When asked if the program would be impacted if BEACON was not hired, Scarlato said there would be an impact.
“It is definitely going to slow the process with us having to do it in house,” she said. “I’m concerned as I mentioned in the beginning about us being fair and transparent, and equitable representation, and I think a neutral party provides that with support with the Economic Development Advisory Board and leaves us as county employees out of any decision-making process.”
She added officials planned to disburse funds in August but that if county staff did the work in house, without BEACON, the process would be extended by months.
The commissioners voted 6-1, with Bunting opposed, to approve the grant program as proposed. Applications for the program, which offers grants of $5,000, $7,500 and $10,000, will be accepted until July 22. For more information on the grant program visit chooseworcester.org.