Strategic Priorities Committee discusses possible second round of grants for businesses

·3 min read

By Spencer Seymour, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Town Treasurer Andre Morin spoke to the Strategic Priorities Committee, made up mostly of St. Marys Town Councillors, regarding a possible second round of business grants last Tuesday.

Morin's first question was whether or not the Town should indeed pursue another round of business grants. In 2020, the Town ran a business grant program to help local businesses struggling amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea of possibly running another round of the program has been mentioned before but now, Morin came to the Committee to see if they wanted Town staff to begin seriously investigating.

Morin stated that he believes there is a need for additional support. He noted that businesses got a boost over the holidays, but into January and February, compounded with the Provincial lockdown, local businesses are once again feeling a big strain. Conversely, he also noted that there have been Federal and Provincial grants available for local businesses, and a case could be made that municipal governments should take a different approach to support their businesses rather than monetary grants. All of this leads to the question; should a second business grant program be run by the municipality, and if so, what would that look like?

There are three key categories to consider in terms of running another such grant program; timing, budget, and eligibility. Beginning with timing, Morin said that if the Town does run another business grant program, it should be done soon. With more businesses reopening, those businesses may need extra funding to assist with the added costs. Morin said that Town staff would aim for March or April to run the program. Next, the potential budget for the program. Morin pointed out that last time, the total budget was $50,000, but requests came in for around $100,000. He expects that would be roughly the same amount requested in a second round, meaning the budget should be between $50,000 to $100,000

Finally, the eligibility criteria. Last time, the criteria for applicants was fairly wide-open. The view was that businesses know what they need and if the municipality puts in more rigid criteria, they may leave someone out who may have a legitimate need. Morin said that they would keep that wide net of eligibility, but did talk about possible areas that may be prioritized. Would businesses that received funding in the first round be secondary to businesses that didn't? Would certain industries be prioritized over others depending on how hard they've been hit? Should the size of the business carry more weight in the selection process, or should there be a minimum or maximum number of employees? Morin stated that they don't need a final decision on these as of last week's meeting, but that they wanted to know if the Committee and the Council wanted Town staff to move forward in drafting a second business grant program and if there are any general ideas, such as the ones he mentioned, that the Town would like to focus on.

Spencer Seymour, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Marys Independent