Monroe County commissioners OK $68K in first round of COVID-19 relief funding, using food and beverage tax proceeds

commissioners 2020-04-22 Screen Shot 2020-04-22 at 10.44.37 AM
Screen grab of the April 22, 2020 Zoom videoconference of the Monroe County board of commissioners. 

Ten Monroe County business owners outside the city limits of Bloomington will be getting an email sometime Wednesday with an agreement for COVID-19 relief grant funds. Once the agreements are signed, the county auditor’s office will be able to cut checks to the businesses.

A total of $68,352 in grant awards was approved by the board of county commissioners its regular Wednesday meeting. Awards ranged from a high of $15,274 for Knightridge, Inc. (Scenic View restaurant on SR 446) to $1,800 for Trivia with Skip, an event booking agency.

The commissioners are tapping up to $200,000 in food and beverage tax proceeds to make the COVID-19 grants to tourism-related businesses.  The connection to tourism is a requirement that stems from a secondary purpose described in the state statute on food and beverage tax proceeds. The primary purpose for food and beverage tax proceeds is to pay for the expansion of the convention center.

President of the board of commissioners, Julie Thomas, said at Wednesday’s meeting that applications are still open for more grants.

Thomas clarified at last Friday’s weekly news conference of city, county, university and IU Health officials that the county’s awards are grants not loans. In its program of COVID-19 relief using food and beverage tax money, the city of Bloomington is offering loans. Thomas said that grantees of the county awards are encouraged, if they are eventually able, to pay back the money.

Thomas also announced at Wednesday’s meeting that the commissioners will be adding to their support of local food banks by awarding $10,000 each to Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard and Ellettsville’s Pantry 279, for a total of $20,000. Commissioners had previously awarded $25,000 to the Hoosier Hills Food Bank.

The process used by commissioners for awarding the COVID-19 relief grants included the assignment of an application to one of the three commissioners for review and an interview with the applicant.

At Wednesday’s meeting commissioners ticked through the applicants they’d interviewed and gave some background on the nature of the applicant’s business. For some of businesses it was not evident from the corporate name what line of work they are in.

During public comment, Michael Korus, with grant recipient Sycamore Farms, said his income right now is “absolutely zero.” He said that for venue operators like him, there’s a lot of uncertainty about how things will look after the stay-at-home orders are lifted, if physical distancing requirements are still in place. At a wedding, Korus said, people are “jam packed on top of each other.” A requirement that people stay six feet apart could mean reducing the capacity of a 200-person venue down to 50 people, he said.

Also during public comment time, William Ellis, a member of the Ellettsville town council and chair of the county’s Republican Party, said he supported the grant awards: “If we’re going to use the food and beverage tax for something I approve of, I think this would be it.”

Here’s a table of the grant awardees, sorted from highest to lowest grant amount.

Grantee Amount
Knightridge, Inc. (Scenic View restaurant) $15,274
Wee Willies West (restaurant) $10,000
Big Sky Campgrounds $8,950
Trailhead Enterprises, Inc. (pizzeria on SR 446) $8,528
Back to Nature Cabins $7,000
Sycamore Farms Bloomington, Inc. (event venue) $5,000
Terry’s Catering, LLC. $5,000
Robert Woodling Rentals $3,800
U’sta-B-New (antique shop) $3,000
Trivia with Skip (bookings) $1,800
Total: $68,352