Homer City Hall. (Homer News file photo)

Homer City Hall. (Homer News file photo)

City council to vote on additional grant programs

The Homer City Council tweaked its program for relief grants for small businesses in town, setting up the ability for businesses who may not have qualified to appeal that process.

The council passed a resolution at its Monday, July 27 meeting that amends the city’s Small Business Economic Recovery Grant (SBERG) Program. The resolution clarifies the eligibility requirements for businesses, as they relate to how sales tax is collected in the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The resolution also sets up an appeals process for businesses who previously were not found eligible but want to try again now that the program has been changed slightly.

Originally, the ordinance setting up the grant program required applicants to have filed a sales tax report with the borough within the third or fourth quarter of 2019, or the first quarter of 2020 that indicated their Homer taxable sales. This has been amended to say that “If this requirement cannot be met, the reasons must be thoroughly explained and program eligibility under the intent of Council will be assessed and determined by the City Manager.”

The ordinance was also amended to say that eligible applicants must not be delinquent with the Kenai Peninsula Borough Tax Department as a result of a lien or violation of payment plan, making that section more specific than it was previously.

“I’m hoping that this provides that flexibility for staff and for businesses looking to appeal a decision and what have you,” said Council member Rachel Lord during the July 27 meeting.

The ordinance was also updated to include that any applicant who was previously denied for the small business grant program can appeal that decision by 5 p.m. 10 days later.

“This is a liberalization of the existing ordinance,” Mayor Ken Castner said during the meeting. “And again, we’re trying to reach as many businesses as possible that qualify.”

The council also had a resolution to create four additional grant programs to get CARES Act funding out to more sectors of the community on its agenda at the last meeting on July 27. After discussing the new grant programs at a worksession before the meeting, the council voted to postpone that resolution to its next meeting, which is coming up on Monday.

At Monday’s meeting, the council will vote on whether to create the four additional grant programs. They are:

• The Nonprofit Economic Relief Grant Program (NERG). This program would give grants of up to $10,000 to nonprofits operating in the city or providing services within the city. The city has $1.25 million allocated to this program. Applying nonprofits must be a 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4), 501(c)(5), 501(c)(6), 501(c)(19), 501(e) or 501(k) designated nonprofit entity under the Internal Revenue Service. Faith-based nonprofit organizations are eligible, according to the program, as long as they “provide services available to the general public regardless of religious affiliation.”

• The Household Economic Relief Grant Program (HERG). This program would allocate $1 million in CARES Act funding for the disbursement of up to $1,000 grants to households within city limits. Only one grant is available per household. The person that applies for the grant on behalf of the household must disclose and document how the home has experienced a negative financial impact. These grants are eligible for things like childcare fees, paying rent or utilities, groceries and other household expenses.

• The Social Services Economic Relief Grant Program (SOSERG). This program would provide grants of up to $25,000 to organizations that provide social services to city residents within the city. Applicants to this program have to meet the eligibility requirements for SBERG and NERG. Under this program, social services include mental health services, child and family support services that are different from childcare, substance abuse treatment, etc.

• The Childcare Business Economic Relief Grant Program (CBERG). This program has $150,000 allocated to it, for grants of varying amounts. The program is for childcare providers giving services to city residents within city limits. All applicants would need to disclose and document that they suffered a revenue loss or incurred additional expenses due to the coronavirus. Licensed childcare providers are eligible for grants of up to $30,000, and other businesses or organizations providing childcare services are also eligible for different amounts.

During the work session before the main meeting, Lord said the council members who worked on the resolution started with the policy outline for the small business grant program as a model for the additional relief programs, to make them fairly consistent.

Lord and Aderhold, who worked on the resolution creating the new programs, said they wanted feedback from the rest of the council and from community members on each of the new programs before the council votes at Monday’s meeting.

“What do you think about the level of the grants, and that kind of thing,” Aderhold said.

One sticking point among council members was the grant program that would give funds to households and families. Aderhold pointed out that the city could be put in a difficult spot with funds being given out directly to citizens, when CARES Act monies have to be carefully accounted for.

“That is very problematic from the standpoint of the city’s liability in terms of those funds,” she said.

City Planner and Acting City Manager Rick Abboud said that small businesses applying for relief grants keep books and can easily demonstrate their need for the funds caused by adverse effects of the coronavirus. That’s not so easily done with individual families, he said.

“We should have some diligence that the money went toward one of those unintended expenses for losses due to the COVID emergency,” Abboud said. “It’s not like the federal money that just dropped $1,200 on us all regardless, and we could buy whatever we like. This isn’t quite like that. The guidance says that we can provide for some of those bills. … Our diligence is compromised, I believe, in the way we do this, handing out checks. You know, even following up with that.”

Lord said every dollar dispensed to the community, no matter through which relief program, has the potential to be abused. She pointed out that the city is asking applicants to the HERG to provide a budget before they can receive the funds.

“If we up front set these parameters in a way that requires that up front budgeting and then the report back to the city, then our ducks are covered and if people abuse it, then it’s on them,” Lord said. “They are liable. We’ve covered ourselves.”

Council member Heath Smith agreed.

“I want people to get the relief that we need and us to (do this) judiciously, and as responsibly as possible,” he said.

The details for all four new grant programs are available to read on the city’s website at cityofhomer-ak.gov/resolution/resolution-20-071establishing-additional-economic-relief-grant-programs.

The next city council meeting takes place at 6 p.m. Monday via Zoom. Check the city website for the Zoom link and information on how to participate or give public comment.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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