The County Board announced a plan to create a business assistance program with at least $400,000 from its CARES Act funding for small businesses in Morrison County. The announcement comes after the county received $4 million in aid and hopes to create a program to utilize the state suggested minimum of 10% of the total dispersed CARES funding.

While details are yet to be confirmed over the next couple weeks, the basis is a $5,000 maximum request (possibly more depending on circumstance) to pay for any expenses a business incurred directly related to the governor’s orders surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Qualifying businesses will have fewer than 50 employees. The application will ask basic questions confirming a physical business and owner location in Morrison County. If there are business partners, the business must be majority owned by a resident of the county.

The business must be in good standing with the Secretary of State and Department of Revenue as of March 1, show a proof of tax return, show proof of operating business since December 2019 and submit copies of bills for expenses.

Award determination may be based on answers to the following questions: How have the governor’s order affected your business expenses? How much are you requesting? Have you received funding from another source? If so, what was it used for?

The latter two questions will directly impact if a business qualifies for funding, said Carol Anderson, director of Morrison County Development.

“It’s important that we know that because depending on the sources, we can’t use this money for some of those. If somebody got a grant front the state that they used to pay their utility bills with and they paid them. Well, then they’re going to come around and say ‘Hey give me money to pay my utility bills’ when they already used state funding to do that. So we want to kinda sniff that out,” she said.

A business cannot “double dip” into state funding and county CARES funding to cover the same expenses. However, Anderson said anyone who received money from any program in the Small Business Association can qualify and “double dip” funding.

Commissioner Randy Winscher wondered if this program can help local farmers recoup expenses related to possible extra storage needed when trucks weren’t shipping product, as well as other COVID-19 related expenses farmers normally wouldn’t have had.

The short answer from Anderson and County Finance Director Steve Messerschmidt was, “yes.” However the program is not a revenue recapture program, so a farmer may want to turn to the Farm Service Agency to explore those options.

Board members entered into a long discussion on what specifically the program would cover. Commissioner Mike Wilson first inquired about those businesses who maybe found funding for utility expenses but have yet to recoup lost income/revenue

Messerschmidt explained that the CARES funding is subject to a single audit and the county has to be able to prove that the money was legitimately spent on cost reimbursement related to COVID-19.

“I think there are programs coming to help offset revenue loss, but I don’t think any of this money is intended for that,” he said.

After Anderson mentioned programs created by the City of Little Falls and the City of Pierz for business strictly within their city limits, Commissioner Greg Blaine wanted to see how the county could focus more on businesses that haven’t received help.

“Are we going to keep this to businesses that are located outside of the City of Little Falls and the City of Pierz?” he asked.

Not intending to leave them out completely, Blaine suggested granting other business funds before those in cities who received loans already, and send those businesses “to the back of the line.”

“It goes back to trying to reach some level of equity or fairness to all the businesses in the county,” he said. “I think it’s important that we look at all those businesses out there.”

Messerschmidt reminded the board that cities and townships will soon be receiving their portion of the CARES funding as well, and that they may choose to support a program for their local businesses. This prompted a discussion on how to manage businesses receiving funds from multiple entities.

County Administrator Deb Gruber said after hearing all of the comments, that the county might consider an application period and a time to review the application all at once, instead of rolling application period and first-come-first-serve disbursement.

“This sounds more like we need to see all of them and then be able to vet those accordingly,” she said.

Gruber suggested finalizing details on the program by August so there is time to spread the word on the program before opening up an application period in September, reviewing awards in October and then granting them by the end of that month.

They will also discuss the possibility of spending more than the suggested 10% of CARES funding on local businesses, or expand to non-profits and other community programs.

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