How $1.5 million in new funds will help Butler County small businesses

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The Butler County commissioners are sharing $1.5 million in CARES Act funding with other jurisdictions to assist small businesses with battling the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Mike DeWine has warned he might have to shutter restaurants, bars and gyms again as COVID-19 cases skyrocket across the state. Hamilton Chamber of Commerce President Dan Bates said the county commissioners' action last week to provide sub-grants to local jurisdictions couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It’s huge. The concern we have is most of our businesses (here) and in the region have survived COVID, and the shutdowns and all the other stuff that goes with it, including racial unrest concerns and everything else,” Bates said. “The big thing that I know we are looking to do with these kinds of funds is what are they going to need next."

With winter approaching, businesses could use funds for things like heaters and igloos so they can continue to serve their patrons outside. Hamilton Finance Director Dave Jones told the Journal-News the city is still working out details of its program.

The commissioners received $18.7 million in CARES Act funding and divided the $1.5 million for small businesses according to population. West Chester Twp. and Hamilton will receive close amounts of $287,583 and $286,673. The smallest allocation is to Trenton, for $60,681.

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.

“Our county doesn’t stand alone and operate on one township, or city or village,” Commissioner Don Dixon said. “So it’s important the whole community survives and has the opportunity to grow and come back. It’s just a matter of the overall financial health of Butler County.”

With the short timeframe, the jurisdictions have been meeting quickly to create programs. The city of Fairfield was the first to approve a full-fledged plan last week, combining $196,518 from the commissioners and council’s own allocation for a total of $600,000, according to Nathaniel Kaelin, Economic Development Manager.

The plan stipulates the for-profit business receiving a grant must make less than $2 million annually in gross receipts, not be part of a corporate chain with more than five franchises, have been in operation between Oct. 1, 2019 and Dec. 31 and have been negatively impacted by the pandemic.

Kaelin said awards will be done on a first-come, first-serve basis until the money runs out. The plan is to begin taking applications Tuesday.

Middletown City Manager Jim Palenick said his city council will vote on its $212,648 allocation on Tuesday, and he believes it will be able to help about 30 businesses. Officials are still finalizing the plan, but he envisions businesses being able to request funding for “things like utilities, personnel costs, operational costs, inventory.”

The application process will be “very transparent” and should last about a week, he said.

He said Middletown has already invested $170,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding for a forgivable loan program, and this money will prioritize businesses that haven’t already received help from that and other programs.

“We want to make a difference," Palenick said. “Also if it is clear that this can make the difference in you continuing to survive and stay in business. Or if this makes the difference in you continuing to keep people employed and pay their salaries. So the idea is that true filling a gap that is necessary.”

The Liberty Twp. trustees said they will likely go door-to-door delivering applications to their businesses themselves, because of the short timeframe and small staff they have. Trustee Steve Schramm said the biggest decision is how they will decide who gets a piece of the $179,701.

“Who is going to vet them? That’s the single biggest issue that could be a problem,” Schramm said. “Because every one of us has friends and people we know in the community. Are we to be tasked then with potential challenges if people don’t like who we give the money to? Do we find a third party, an outside non-profit to help review them with us?"

When West Chester Twp. was allocating its initial rounds of direct CARES Act funding, Finance Director Ken Keim said the township wasn’t set up to help small businesses. Now Barb Wilson, director of public information and engagement, said they’re working on a plan.

“West Chester didn’t want the opportunity to help our small businesses to slip away,” Wilson said. “We’re working to keep the process as simple as possible with funds distributed first-come (qualified applicants) first served.”

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