Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday approved several measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those include a pay out from the borough’s economic fund for local businesses and the green light for the local hospital to apply for a payroll loan.
The Petersburg Economic Development Council requested the 100-thousand dollars from the borough’s economic fund to help local businesses forced to close or limit hours because of the pandemic. It would be part of 150-thousand dollars that could be paid out to local businesses as soon as possible. Most of the money could be paid out as incentive grants for businesses that apply for federal payroll protection loans through recently passed federal aid legislation.
“I would say that there’s no way that the economic fund can come close to covering some of the losses that our businesses are experiencing and we really can’t think about it in those terms,” said Liz Cabrera, economic development director for the borough. “What we can do is try and give a small infusion of cash and improve people’s cash flow, especially the smaller businesses that actually had to close. I’m thinking of hair salons and nail salons and places like that that really have shut down and aren’t going to be opening.”
Those businesses that are top priority to receive some of that money are ones deemed non-essential and forced to close under state mandate. Brick and mortar stores with a physical store here would be a priority and the number of employees would be a factor. Cabrera emphasized that businesses should be applying for federal aid.
“In order for us to come back out of this as close to whole as possible, I think it’s really important that we keep moving money through our community,” Cabrera said. “And if that money has to come from outside, through the federal program, then that’s where it has to come from but I think it’s really important that we all think in those terms, that we all think about how we can move money through our town.”
Other uses of the money could be a sales tax rebate or support for restaurants that are providing delivery service.
The economic fund was created in 1997 with a federal payment of 6.3 million dollars meant to offset losses from a decline in the timber industry. It has around 3.6 million dollars remaining.
Vice mayor Jeigh Stanton Gregor supported the payout.
“This isn’t something that’s going to solve the financial burdens that the very small businesses are facing but it’s going to help, and then taking next steps of seeking state and federal relief,” Stanton Gregor said.
The vote to approve the payment was unanimous by a full assembly attending two assembly meetings Monday by telephone.
It was also a unanimous vote to OK a loan application by Petersburg Medical Center for payroll protection under the CARES act, which stands for Coronvirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security.
Hospital board member Marlene Cushing urged passage of the emergency ordinance to allow for the loan application.
“When we’re thinking about how we’re going to cope once we have people sick enough to need medical care and even hospitalization, it’s just critical that we’re going to have not just supplies but the staff to take care of them and that’s what this is addressing,” Cushing said.
Cushing and others with the hospital noted that the loan can be forgiven by the Small Business Administration if used for payroll and utility payments.
“Given the economic crisis pending in the nation, we want to make sure we take advantage of these programs as early on as possible,” explained Petersburg Medical Center CEO Phil Hofstetter. “This does not mean that we’re in a catastrophic situation,” he said. “It just means we know this is going to be six months plus of a problem and crisis and we need to be able to support it through any means possible and this is one of those mechanisms.”
Most borrowing by the local government requires voter approval but not all. The borough charter allows for borrowing money to meet appropriations for any fiscal year without going on the ballot. That borrowing can’t exceed 25 percent of expected revenues and has to be paid off before the end of the next fiscal year.
Assembly members were thankful the medical center requested this step and approved the loan application 7-0.
In two other unanimous votes, the assembly took steps to create a disaster fund to respond to the pandemic, using 200-thousand dollars in money from the borough’s tax supported general fund. The municipality anticipates reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The money could pay for emergency personnel, supplies or other needs.