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Local governments rally to aid merchants

Cities promote grant packages to keep doors open at shops

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Jason Villegas is wiping down the bar at The South Chicken & Waffles restaurant in The Forum at Olympia Parkway July 11. The eatery is one of 40-plus Live Oak businesses to receive grant assistance from the city during the COVID-19 pandemic that go toward paying bills. Photo by Jose T. Garza III

Several Randolph Metrocom cities are providing economic relief to struggling business owners dealing with the economic effects of the novel coronavirus.

Since March, many shops have closed or reduced patron capacity, laid off staffers and struggled to pay the rent or mortgage, thanks to the spread of COVID-19.

To counter the downturn, Live Oak awarded $215,000 to 47 local enterprises since May, according to city officials. About $300,000 in Economic Development Corp. funds – originally earmarked for a water purchase – was allocated through grants, said City Manager Scott Wayman.

Up to $5,000 went to each establishment.

Also in May, Universal City politicos approved a $500,000 stimulus package derived from municipal and Economic Development Corp. dollars, of which, $438,000 was allotted to 54 businesses.

After OK’ing a $150,000 Small Business Reinvestment Program initiative June 11, Selma received applications from 15 merchants, said City Administrator Johnny Casias. While funds hadn’t been disbursed as of press time, each owner may be entitled to $5,000.

Converse will begin accepting forms for its own stimulus July 21. Due to the town’s status as an economic and industrial hub, launching the $250,000 grant program was a lengthy process, Economic Development Corp. Director Jimsi Kuborn said.

To qualify for financial help ranging from $500 to $5,000, applicants must pay property and sales taxes in the city, provide proof of delinquent bills, and evidence of sales and employment changes.

Converse officials aim to issue rewards by the end of September.

“We are asking people to request what funding they will need, and that will be dependent on what the grant will cover,” Kuborn said. “Our grant will cover things like outstanding lease payments, or, if (proprietors) own a building, outstanding mortgage and mortgage interest (payments), payroll expenses, past due utility bills and sales taxes.”

Metrocom leaders hope their relief efforts can help area merchants overcome the financial strain COVID-19 wrought this spring, despite some having resumed full-on operations in May.

Businesses such as bars have temporarily shuttered again due to a recent surge in COVID-19 cases; restaurants reduced seating capacity from 75 percent to 50 percent under orders from Gov. Greg Abbott.

“We felt it (financial help) was the right thing to do,” Casias said. “Many (Selma owners) have struggled to provide employees assistance, pay rent/utilities, or find access to personal protective equipment to safely operate, especially as we operate.”

Kuborn said Converse realized the pandemic would create long-term harm. She noted officials contacted 200 employers within 48 hours of the March shutdown.

“When you look at a small-business owner who owns a gym or yoga studio, even at this point right now because of social distancing and face-mask requirements, they may only operate at 25 percent of their income that they were (at) a year ago,” she said. “Just because businesses are reopening doesn’t mean they are at full capacity, and they are still trying to catch up from the detriment from being either fully closed or partially open.”

Each municipality has a set of criteria to determine those companies viable for aid.

Selma-based employers must resume operations somewhere within the city, demonstrate a 20 percent loss in revenue or employment from March 1 to Dec. 31, employ less than 15 full-time staffers, be registered with the Texas Comptroller’s office as a sales-tax revenue generating business for the city, and be in good standing with City Hall regarding licensing and permits.

To be considered, Live Oak organizations must be in operation and maintain the same number of personnel from December 2019 through the end of 2020, and pay no more than 50 workers.

Selma employers can seek financial assistance via the city’s website, https://www.ci.selma.tx.us; Live Oak merchants can apply in person at the town’s headquarters, 8001 Shin Oak Drive, or its website, https://www.liveoaktx.net; Converse operators can go online at https://www.conversetx.net.

Find this story and more at www.localcommunitynews.com.

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