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Column – County gives PE businesses CARES crumbs

Local businesses seem to have gotten the short end of the stick from Prince Edward County officials when it comes to grant funding from the CARES Act.

So far, the county has allocated only $100,000 to be used for small business grants and nonprofits. That’s only 2.5% of the nearly $4 million coming to the county through the CARES Act program.

The county has chosen to use the money to buy equipment for the Emergency Medical Services, highlighted by two new ambulances at a cost of $480,000. Through two rounds of funding, EMS expenses make up 21% of all county CARES Act funding available and 40% of the $2 million in allocations made so far. Law enforcement has made up another big chunk of the allocations, comprising 21% of the money allocated so far and 11% of the total money available.

Prince Edward County’s businesses are being thrown table scraps from the county government compared to what other local governments in the state and around the country are doing to help their local businesses.

Every county received CARES money, so it’s easy to look around and see the differences in decision-making around the country. It is hard to find any place providing less of a percentage in help to local businesses than Prince Edward.

Lunenburg County has set aside $400,000, or 37% of its total allocation, for small business grants. Down near the shore, Hampton is using $1.25 million (5.4%) of its $23 million CARES allocation to aid small businesses. In addition, the town has set aside $2.5 million to assist individuals with housing and day care. Newport News is using $9 million, or 29%, of its $31.3 million CARES allocation for what they call “community well-being and resiliency.” The program includes small business grants, a program for assisting individuals, homeless population care, community telemedicine, workforce training, support for nonprofits and internet access programs.

Other counties are using almost all their CARES money to get the local economies running again. Madison County, Illinois, received $1,755,949 in CARES funding. The county is giving $1.5 million in small business grants and $250,000 to public service agencies. That’s 100% of the CARES funding going right back into the community.

Anne Arundel County in Maryland has spent $18 million of its $101 million (18%) in CARES funding on grants and contributions to businesses, individuals needing help and nonprofit organizations. Middlesex County in New Jersey is giving $30 million in small business grants of as much as $30,000. That’s more than 20% of the $144 million the county was provided in CARES Act funding.

So why is Prince Edward valuing small businesses at such a low level? It could be that the small business advocates in town are at their least influential in years. The Farmville Area Chamber of Commerce has a new interim executive director and the Farmville Downtown Partnership does not have a program manager.

Someone needs to be in front of this board pounding the table demanding that the local businesses who pay the taxes get a fair shake. A pool of $100,000 just isn’t going to get it done for small businesses that have already lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The county has allocated only around $2 million of the nearly $4 million it has available. County personnel need to look around and see what other counties are doing to help small businesses and make some changes. They have obviously asked EMS and law enforcement officials what they need. It is time to bring the local business community to the table and ask them what they need as well.

The county has been given a chance to give the local economy a boost by using this money to get businesses back on their feet. It is an investment that will pay for itself many times over in the coming years.

ROGER WATSON is editor of The Farmville Herald. His email address is Roger.Watson@ FarmvilleHerald.com.