By Mike Anderson
The Town of Georgina is extending its COVID-19 grants to help small businesses impacted by the pandemic.
The grants, offered through the Town’s COVID-19 Community Improvement Plan (CIP), provide funding for specific projects, including e-commerce solutions, implementing COVID-19 protocols, and setting up outdoor patios.
However, the grants are only offered to businesses within the Town’s three Business Improvement Areas (BIAs), Uptown Keswick, Sutton and Jackson’s Point.
Business owners have until December 31, 2022, to apply for three different grant programs.
The COVID Protocols Grant provides 50 per cent of the cost of renovations or the purchase of health and safety products, up to a maximum of $3,000 per business.
The Technology and Software Grant, which helps businesses adopt e-commerce solutions, provides 50 per cent of the cost, up to a maximum of $1,500 per business.
The Patio Grant Program which provides restaurants with funds to install and set up outdoor patio areas will also fund 50 per cent of the cost to a maximum of $2000 per business.
Still, business owners have been slow to take advantage of the grants, with just six grant applications approved in 2020 and only one in 2021, with less than $15,000 in total funding provided to date.
Karyn Stone, manager of economic development, attributes the low number of applications to worsening economic conditions.
“The economy has been unstable, and businesses may not have the funds to take part in the grant programs which required businesses to pay 50 per cent of the cost of the project,” she said.
Still, Town staff decided to extend the grant programs because support is still needed.
“The longer the impacts of COVID lasted, the less cash flow businesses have had to undertake upgrades and renovations or start a new business venture. With some hope that capacity restrictions and closures will soon come to an end, and business operations stabilizing, these grants are just one opportunity for the Town to support businesses recovery,” Stone said.
However, Steve Jacobson, chair of the Jackson’s Point BIA, says some small business owners are reluctant to apply for the grants because the amounts are too low.
“For all the hassles of going through this, it’s not a ton of money,” Jacobson said.
“You can lead them to water, but you can’t make them drink.”
Indeed, the 2022 budget, approved by council, allocated $40,000 to administer this year’s COVID-19 grant programs.
In contrast, council approved $250,000 in 2020 for the Georgina Emergency Relief Benefit (GERB), which provided a maximum of $7,500 in grants to eligible businesses.
And while that program was open to all businesses in Georgina, the current CIP grants are only available to businesses within the BIAs.
That means business owners in Baldwin, Virginia, Pefferlaw, Port Bolster, and Udora are not eligible for the COVID-19 grants, which doesn’t sit well with Jacobson.
“It’s not fair to leave businesses outside the BIAs without support,” he said.
“They’re suffering as much as anybody else.”
Karen Wolfe, a Pefferlaw Ratepayers Association (PAR) spokesperson, agrees.
“Excluding Ward 5 businesses and other non-BIA businesses in Georgina from qualifying for the Town’s small business grants is neither right nor fair,” she said.
“I would strongly urge them to go back and reconsider this decision because there has definitely been an error in judgement here. Have they forgotten whose money they are using for these grants? It is tax money and should be used universally across all programming — not just for some.”
However, according to Stone, the CIP grants are regulated by the Ontario Municipal Act, which only allows grants to businesses within BIAs.
However, she says that businesses outside the three BIAs should contact her office to find out about other supports, including alternate funding programs, workshops and assistance with e-commerce.
“As businesses move toward recovery, the Town wants to ensure that they have access to a wide variety of support programs not only in terms of funding but also training and skills development programs and other business support programs,” she said.
The Town does offer a series of non-grant COVID-19 support programs, which are open to all businesses in Georgina.
The Temporary Patio Program is the most popular, making up 70 per cent of the approved applications in 2021.
It allows restaurants to build new patios or expand existing outdoor dining areas to increase seating capacity while maintaining social distancing.
There is also a COVID Building Permit Application Fee Rebate Program, which provides a rebate for permits fees, up to 50 per cent of the application fee to a maximum of $3,000 per business. This year the program has been expanded to include all business sectors, including commercial, tourism and agriculture.
The Development Application Fee Rebate Program, established in 2018 to provide rebates to the industrial sector, has also been expanded to include all sectors starting in 2022.
However, the Not-for-Profit Charitable Organizations Grant, which provided $50,000 in financial assistance to 17 not-for-profit organizations since 2020, has been discontinued.
“The purpose of the grant was to provide one-time funding to help cover lease and operating costs for those non-for-profits and community organizations that have a brick and mortar location,” Stone said.
“Based on our research, the majority of eligible organizations have taken advantage of this program, and we do not anticipate further applications.”
To find out how to apply for the COVID-19 grants, visit the Community Improvement Plan Program page at www.georgina.ca.
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