By Debra Moore
The Plumas County Board of Supervisors set aside $540,000 in federal COVID relief funding for small businesses and community-based organizations (CBOs), but how will it be distributed?
That was the question before the supervisors during their meeting May 10, with one supervisor questioning whether small businesses would even apply for the funds due to the paperwork required for the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA).
The funds are for losses or costs experienced after March 3, 2021, with a focus on those with 25 or fewer employees. Entities would need to document the increased costs or decreased revenues that occurred as a result of COVID, and then report back on how allocated grant funds were spent.
Those requirements prompted Supervisor Jeff Engel to say, “I’ve been a small businessman for 40 years … When they run up against the red tape of the requirements … I don’t think you are going to see a lot of applications.”
That said, some businesses and nonprofits might apply for the funds and there must be a process in place to accommodate the requests. One of the questions the supervisors considered was whether to do the work in-house or hire an outside entity. The county set aside $300,000 in its ARPA funding allocations for a project manager and that person could create the criteria, promote and administer it.
Deanne Blankenship, of the California Health Collaborative, the organization that has been assisting the county with the process, said that some entities have turned to local foundations for assistance. Foundations typically charge a 5 percent fee for such a service.
Clint Koble, a Lake Almanor resident and local representative for the Sierra Small Business Development Center, proposed allocating the $540,000 as follows: $200,000 to the Lost Sierra Visitors Center and $100,000 to Plumas Arts Council, saying the entities have been ineligible for other types of funding and were impacted by COVID. Koble said that would leave $240,000 for small business and CBO grants (the amount the supervisors originally intended for the purpose). Then he suggested that the Sierra Business Council, the entity that has “done it for the surrounding the counties,” be employed to administer those grants.
Supervisor Greg Hagwood discussed the “in-county reality of our capacity,” saying it would be difficult to recruit someone with the appropriate qualifications for what amounts to a two-year commitment. “I think it would be good to relieve ourselves and our staffs of this,” he said.
Board Chairman Kevin Goss agreed with Hagwood but said an in-house staff person could help the county with grant writing. Though he acknowledged the timing might not be right to merge the two positions at this point.
Hagwood agreed with such a position for the future, while Supervisor Sherrie Thrall said she “really liked the idea of establishing an economic coordinator, but I don’t think we want to tie that to this funding.”
Koble again made a pitch for the visitors center and Plumas Arts, but Goss said he would prefer a formal application process, “rather than just handing out money.”
It was decided that the county would put out a request for proposals for an entity to administer the grant funds, and Blankenship offered to collect RFPs from other jurisdictions for Plumas to use as examples.