Butler County small businesses getting millions from local governments in huge program response

Main Street Hamilton Ohio

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The Butler County commissioners awarded $1.5 million in coronavirus relief funds to nine cities and townships to help small businesses weather the pandemic and the money is proving to be in great demand. The commissioners received $18.7 million in CARES Act funding and divided the $1.5 million for small businesses according to population. Businesses must apply for the grant and eligible businesses must have fewer than 25 full time equivalent employees, and no single grant can exceed $10,000. The money must be spent before Dec. 30. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Butler County communities that received CARES funding from the county commissioners for small business grants say their programs have been highly successful and very clearly needed.

The commissioners awarded $1.5 million of their $18.7 million coronavirus relief allocation to nine of the largest cities and townships last month. Some communities are still accepting applications, others have closed the opportunity window because of the short timeframe to get everything completed by the federal CARES deadline of Dec. 30.

The Liberty Twp. trustees held a special meeting Monday to approve an additional $252,663, so all 45 eligible businesses that applied could receive funding. The commissioners allotted the township $179,701 so the trustees are awarding a total of $432,364. The township is using some of the $2.48 million in CARES money it received outright, that had been earmarked for public safety salaries.

Economic Development Director Caroline McKinney said only three businesses did not qualify for the grant program which expired Friday. Officials in both Liberty and West Chester townships initially said they weren’t staffed to handle a small business relief program. McKinney said with the county’s help they were able to accomplish it.

“I expect receiving these grant dollars during these continued uncertain times will really assist many of our businesses,” McKinney said. “In Liberty, our commercial base is made up of small businesses so this is important work for the township and our community.”

ExploreApplications flooding in countywide for small business coronavirus relief money

The commissioners defined small businesses as fewer that 25 employees, no grant can exceed $10,000 and businesses had to demonstrate they have been harmed by the pandemic. It is a reimbursement program so unused funds stay with the county. The various communities had their own requirements like income levels and length of time they have owned a brick and mortar business.

The city of Fairfield has earmarked the largest sum of money for small business coronavirus relief, combining $196,518 from the commissioners and council’s own allocation for a total of $600,000, according to Economic Development manager Nathaniel Kaelin. He said as of Friday, they received $595,000 in requests from 84 businesses and have issued checks $380,000 to 57 of those businesses.

Tim Wietmarschen and his wife Sara own Bryan’s Flowers in Fairfield and they qualified for a $5,000 grant. Businesses could use the money for rent, utilities, personal protective equipment, salaries and other items that may have been hard to pay during the shutdown and since.

He said they are only a two-person shop and both tested positive for COVID-19 so they had to shut down for three weeks. They are grateful for the help.

“It took a toll,” he said. “It was a matter of staying open and not staying open. I know it’s not a lot of money but to little people like us it is a lot of money. It’ll pay some of the bills. We’ve been paying but it’s been coming out of own pocket.”

West Chester was allocated $287,583 by the county and has awarded $80,000 to eight businesses, according to Barb Wilson, director of public information and engagement. She said they have received 82 applications, they have requested more information from 42 of them and 32 were ineligible. The deadline is Friday.

Trustee Mark Welch told business owners during the trustee meeting last week to apply for the “free money.”

“Do the paperwork,“ Welch said. “None of these things are easy, for those of us who took out and a got a PPP loan (Paycheck Protection Program) the loan forgiveness form is exhausting, so this is far less complicated that.”

The city of Hamilton was allocated $286,673 and has approved and paid out $202,606 in 26 grants. Finance Director Dave Jones said they received 55 applications and are still processing them, they expect to distribute the entire allotment.

Middletown City Manager Jim Palenick said they are still finalizing things but he expects they will use nearly all their $212,648 allocation, leaving less than $25,000 on the table.

“These grants will serve as short-term stop-gaps at a time when, as we await the relative economic normalcy that wide-spread vaccinations might bring, the most important possible thing we can do is to offer short-term stop-gaps,” Palenick said.

The commissioners divided the money according to population and Fairfield Twp. received $105,426. Township Administrator Julie Vonderhaar said they only received one application and two emailed inquiries. She said their commercial base isn’t very large but they have posted it on social media and their webpage, additionally she has reached out to the merchants at Bridgewater Falls.

Oxford Assistant City Manager Jessica Greene said they received 97 applications for funding and they have $106,714 from the county to award. The city awarded $4,395 to the Oxford Farmers’ Market for payroll expenses because they didn’t receive any money from the first round of $195,000 city council allotted to help small businesses. The rest, $102,319 will be equally distributed.

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