Should BG businesses be ‘rescued’? Council committee debates


American Rescue Plan Act funding was the focus Monday as Bowling Green Council’s finance committee met.

The committee voted to send on to the city attorney a proposal from a local businessman aimed at creating an ARPA business grant fund and application process to help businesses that were negatively impacted by COVID.

The proposal came from Ben Vollmar of Flatlands Coffee.

Mary Vollmar, who spoke on the proposal during Monday’s council meeting, said that the request is targeted at businesses who fell through the cracks of federal COVID funding because they opened during the pandemic, and who also faced other issues such as fire, wind damage and road closures.

Councilman Mark Hollenbaugh said that he was not in support of it.

“Handing out dollars to not-for-profits is one thing, but I worry about the precedent being set by granting money to for-profit businesses,” he said.

Councilman Bill Herald said that last year, when council began discussing how to allocate ARPA funds, one of the first categories he thought of was assistance to local businesses that were hit by COVID-related restrictions.

“So for me – and I greatly respect Mark’s perspective always – but the businesses were hit by COVID and so I think that there’s a way to fashion, with appropriate guardrails,” a way to allocate the money to businesses as well as employees affected by COVID,” Herald said.

“If it’s fashioned well, I think there’s a way forward,” he said.

Councilman Greg Robinette, who is the committee chair, said he shared Herald’s views, and noted that some businesses, potentially due to circumstances in the city itself, weren’t able to benefit from federal grant programs that came about because of COVID.

He said that all of council should have a more formal discussion on this.

“I think it has merit,” Robinette said. “I’m not willing to end it here. I’d like to see it fleshed out and presented to council.”

Herald said that the amount of the grants, the maximum to be awarded, as well as criteria for decision-making should be part of legislation arriving out of the proposal.

Robinette moved that the committee send the proposal on to the city attorney, where it could be made into a piece of legislation for eventual submission to council. It passed 2-1, with Hollenbaugh voting against.

The committee voted unanimously to forward to council a suggestion from Herald that $150,000 in ARPA funds be allocated for sidewalk repair and construction.

Herald said that the sidewalk commission met on April 5 and made that recommendation.

“We have, as everyone knows, more need than money,” Herald said. “This increased allocation is in keeping with the spirit and precedent that we established early-on by having improvement of streets and sidewalks.”

Robinette asked at what point property owners would be asked to make repairs to the sidewalks they are responsible for. Herald said that is something the sidewalk commission recommended the administration look into and make a recommendation.

“The main thing would be to use the money for increasing the quality of our sidewalks,” Herald said.

“I am not in favor of just fixing sidewalks and overlooking” the part of the property owner to maintain their sidewalks, Robinette said. “But I’m certainly in favor of investing in more infrastructure in the form of sidewalks.”

Hollenbaugh said he shared some of Robinette’s concerns, and that he wanted to ensure that a significant portion of the money would go toward increasing walkability by putting sidewalks where they’re needed and currently don’t exist.

“For a long time, we haven’t allocated any funds to putting sidewalks in places where they’ve never been,” Hollenbaugh said. “People either have to walk in the street or walk in yards.”

Where did the ARPA funds go in BG?

A document listing all of the 14 local non-profits which received American Resuce Plan Act grant allocations.

“It’s good to see that a large number of organizations in the city took advantage of the opportunity,” Councilman Greg Robinette said of the ARPA grants. “There’s a lot of good that’s going to happen because of this.”

“It’s obvious from some of these numbers that the organizations put a great deal of thought into how they were adversely affected,” Councilman Mark Hollenbaugh said, “and some clearly just asked to be reimbursed for lesser than the whole amount just to make themselves whole.”

The allocations totaled $500,000. The organizations include:

• Bowling Green Christian Food Pantry, $50,000 for food purchase and distribution and equipment upgrades.

• Bowling Green Fire Division Community Benefit Fund, $43,000 for Knox boxes, smoke detectors and community education.

• Bowling Green Girls Fast Pitch Softball League/Velocity, $10,000 for program support.

• Bowling Green Arts Council, $7,000 for support for one-month “pop-up” art galleries.

• Brown Bag Food Project, $50,000 for food purchasing and distribution, and operation support.

• Children’s Hunger Alliance, $50,000 for meal distribution for BG school students.

• First Christian Church of Bowling Green, $15,000 for drive through meals and food bags.

• First United Methodist Child Learning Center, $50,000 for recovery from pandemic distancing and ratio rules.

• La Conexion, $50,000 for community outreach and programming.

• NAMI, $50,000 for support for mental health programming.

• STARS Community Learning Center, $50,000 for recovery from pandemic revenue losses.

• St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, $15,000 for Wednesday meals and Crim tutoring programs.

• Wood Lane Industries, $30,000 for a fleet management system for its transportation network.

• Wood Lane Residential Services, $30,000 for agency support.

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