This story has been updated to reflect council’s approval of the grant program.
Municipal politicians gave the green light to the $2-million economic recovery program at their Wednesday meeting.
The city is aiming to have more information up on its website by Aug. 10 and hopes to begin accepting applications from businesses by Aug. 17.
The program will be worth $2 million in total and will be given out in grants of $1,000 to $25,000.
Council’s executive committee had discussed the framework for the initiative during its July 8 meeting.
“I think it’s important to send the signal that we’re listening and that as best as we can we’re gonna help out,” said Regina Mayor Michael Fougere.
The money will come from the City of Regina’s general fund reserve. Businesses operating outside of a residence within Regina city limits can apply. Grants will be prioritized based on a set of criteria determining the extent of the pandemic’s impact on their operations and livelihood.
The program is designed with a phased approach that would see 40 per cent of the funding available from August to December of this year for “immediate and critical needs,” such as personal protective equipment, according to a report to executive committee.
The report states the second phase would see the remaining 60 per cent of the funding doled out from January to December 2021 for ” longer-term, more strategic work to diversify the economy and create sustainable opportunities to meet the changing marketplace.”
On April 15, council received a request from the Regina & District Chamber of Commerce (R&DCC) to provide a 25 per cent municipal non-residential property tax deferral to be repaid over five years.
However, due to provincial legislation, the City of Regina was unable to fulfill that request.
“The Cities Act specifically prohibits the deferral, cancellation, reduction or refund of property taxes for an entire class or subclass of properties,” said Regina’s executive director of financial strategy and sustainability Barry Lacey.
Instead, council requested a report, developed alongside the R&DCC, related to the request in which the grant program framework is contained.
Executive committee’s July 8 debate on the report lasted hours, with several councillors bringing forward amendments, but only one was ultimately voted through.
That amendment, put on the floor by Ward 2 Coun. Bob Hawkins, requested the R&DCC be removed as an administrator of any approved program. The organization was set to help process applications as the plan was originally written.
Hawkins, though, saw further involvement of the chamber as a conflict of interest.
“The purpose of the amendment is to show that in the granting of public monies the city’s administration takes charge of the oversight to ensure fairness is respected,” Hawkins told Henry Baker Hall.
“They’ll be involved in some of the consultation, but they will not run the program,” Fougere added.
The grants will require matching contributions from applicants, a point of the plan that drew criticism from a delegation to the committee meeting.
“I think we’ll see business owners review the criteria and see the fact that they’ll need to fork over thousands of dollars for the program, and they’ll say ‘Yeah, we need the help, but no, I can’t afford it,'” said Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) policy analyst Jennifer Henshaw on July 8.
Henshaw said a recent CFIB survey found cash flow is a concern for 58 per cent of small businesses. The survey also found that while 71 per cent of Saskatchewan businesses are open, only 29 per cent are making “normal sales” compared to non-pandemic years.
“When we reviewed the grant program, we looked at it with the lens of ‘how can we make sure this relief is broad-based enough to help as many business owners as possible,'” she said. “Time and time again, I’ve heard that business owners are just trying to recover and that it’s almost like they’re starting from square one with their business.”
Henshaw also indicated she’d like to see the proposed program’s phased nature reworked.
“Businesses need that help now, not a year and a half from now,” she said. “These are businesses that were thriving and through no fault of their own they were closed.”
Henshaw also took issue with the application criteria listed in the report.
“We need some clarity into what exactly business owners need to demonstrate. We’ve seen it in the federal and provincial programs and we need to see it here,” she said. “The language that is being used is a little bit vague.”
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