The Grand Junction City Council voted at its Wednesday meeting to appropriate $1 million in grant funding to help local small businesses and nonprofits that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The $1 million, plus administration fees, will be split into three programs, Finance Director Jodi Welch said. Two programs will be similar to COVID-19 relief programs the City Council authorized in 2020. One will provide $500,000 in assistance to small businesses and be administered by the Business Incubator. The other will provide $250,000 for nonprofits that are focused on hunger relief and be administered by the Western Colorado Community Foundation (WCCF).
Much of the discussion was regarding the third program, which is a new proposal. It will likely go to support operations for nonprofits more generally. However, Council Member Anna Stout said the criteria for what nonprofits would be eligible and how the program will be administered is still under discussion. Stout has been meeting with city staff, the Businesses Incubator, WCCF and the Chamber of Commerce to develop the program.
“We’re working through what it is going to look like,” Stout said. “There are some complications regarding essentially what the parameters are for how we allocate that funding, what the criteria are, whether the criteria are more mission based or budget size, staff size, etcetera.”
Council Member Phyllis Norris said she did not support approving that program without having those questions answered.
“I’m not comfortable approving this money until I know what the criteria is going to be,” Norris said. “The last time we did this, the incubator sent us a huge criteria, the questions that were done. We knew before we approved any money how it was going to be evaluated and how it was going to be administered.”
Stout suggested that the $250,000 for the nonprofits could be tabled and brought back next month once the program had been defined. She said the group discussing the program was close to having those answers.
“I think that this question is early,” Stout said. “I think we need to have at least another meeting. It is a lot, but I don’t think we’re far from it.”
City Manager Greg Caton said another option would be for the Council to allocate the money, but not approve spending it until there is a concrete proposal. He said that would allow the Council to vote on exactly how the program would work, but be more expeditious than treating the program as a separate agenda item.
“It’s just an appropriation, so it’s holding $1,027,000,” Caton said. “We have clear direction on $777,000 and then $250,000 is really kind of waiting. The details would be worked out and then that would be ratified by City Council on Feb. 3.”
The funding for all three programs will come from the city’s fund balance, which Welch said is expected to increase at the end of the 2020 fiscal year by $4 million to $4.4 million. That was achieved despite the economic impacts of the pandemic.
“As a result of frugal spending in line or below the reduced expense budget, better than expected revenues, as well as the reimbursement of COVID related expenses through the CARES Act ... the general fund reserve is expected to increase,” Welch said.
The Council approved the grant funding unanimously.