Loudon City Council on Monday considered ways to help local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Councilman Tim Brewster asked that the city reallocate $100,000 from the Courthouse Square Fund to help a list of 30 Loudon businesses that are requesting help.
“In our courthouse square, you know, $100,000 in there, and when these businesses shut down, they don’t collect unemployment,” Brewster said. “Now’s the time for Loudon city to take care of our businesses so I would like to put that on the agenda for discussion.”
Council discussed for about 20 minutes how the city could help.
“I’m thinking — I’m not sure — that courthouse square money can only be spent in the boundary of the courthouse square,” Jeff Harris, Loudon mayor, said.
Kris Frye, city attorney, said he was unsure.
Councilman Johnny James said the fund’s purpose is up to the state.
“Tim, we couldn’t change it unless the state let — allows us to change it,” James said. “The state mandates what we do with it.”
“Just for clarification, it’s a highly regulated program,” Ty Ross, city manager, added. “And ... over the years we’ve developed a grant program that is in keeping with what the general assembly’s dictated those funds for both signs, awnings and facades, you know, for downtown merchants.”
Ross said there is “some leeway” in using the fund for other purposes, but he cautioned against Brewster’s request because it could turn into a “nasty debate of who gets what.”
Harris said there has been some discussion at the state level to lend a helping hand to communities.
“These businesses, you know, the Senate voted down again today a federal stimulus,” Brewster said. “This is something we could help our businesses with now.”
Ross pointed out again that allocating the Courthouse Square Fund could have a negative effect.
“We have more than 30 businesses in the city that, you know, it becomes a question of who gets what when and who is more worthy versus who is least worthy,” Ross said.
James said funds cannot be used outside the courthouse square so only businesses inside the square would be able to receive help. He suggested forgoing utility bills for the businesses to help them instead of using the funds.
“I would caution against throwing caution to the wind,” Ross said. “There’s several stimulus packages on the way, both from the federal government and from the state. Loudon city has a very limited supply of revenue and funds to pull from. I can assure you in the coming year 2020 those revenues are going to go down. We are cratering into a recession that we can only speculate the length of. I would urge you to look wisely at the resources we have now so that we can get through the remainder of this fiscal year as well as tackle next fiscal year.”
Discussion ended with Brewster withdrawing his motion and suggesting Ross call the state to find out what else could be done with the fund.
In other news, Loudon City Council:
• Accepted a fuel bid from Rogers Petroleum Inc.
• Amended chapter six of the zoning ordinance to add development standards for recreational vehicle parks.
• Authorized an additional $86,736 to be added to the 2019-20 fiscal year budget for medical plan funding.
• Authorized the reallocation of the Courthouse Square Fund as a grant program.
• Authorized two Ford trucks to be traded in on the Vehicle Replacement Program.
• Authorized a recreation department utility trailer to be considered surplus.
• Approved the paving contract for Highland Avenue with APAC Atlantic Inc.