Monroe County on path for second $200K-installment of COVID-19 business relief using food and beverage tax proceeds

At a Tuesday afternoon meeting, the food and beverage tax advisory commission (FABTAC) recommended another $200,000 for Monroe County officials to allocate to tourism-related businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

cropped 2020-05-05 FABTAC Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 3.22.49 PM
Screenshot of the May 5, 2020 meeting of the food and beverage tax advisory commission, which was held by Zoom video conference.

That brings to $400,000 the total recommended by the FABTAC for the county’s COVID-19 relief program.

The county’s grant program for COVID-19 business relief is just for tourism-related businesses outside the Bloomington city limits.

The city of Bloomington has a similar program using its own share of the food and beverage tax proceeds, but the allocations to businesses inside the city limits are being made as loans, not grants. The city’s program taps $2 million from the city’s share of food and beverage tax proceeds.

The county council will have an ordinance on its May 12 agenda next week to appropriate the additional money recommended on Tuesday by the FABTAC. The following day at their regular meeting, the county commissioners expect to be able to make some additional grant allocations to businesses.

At Tuesday’s FABTAC meeting, president of the county’s board of commissioners, Julie Thomas, encouraged businesses to continue to apply for the grants.

An initial installment of $200,000 in food and beverage tax proceeds was recommended by the FABTAC in March.

On Tuesday, the seven-member FABTAC was missing one of its two Bloomington representatives, as mayor John Hamilton was unable to attend. City council president Steve Volan presided over the meeting, conducted via Zoom videoconference. Such telecom-facilitated meetings have become the standard for public meetings during the COVID-19 public health crisis.

In addition to two city and two county electeds (councilor Cheryl Munson and commissioner Julie Thomas) the FABTAC includes three merchants: Lennie Busch (One World Enterprises), Tony Suttile, (Fourwinds Lakeside Inn & Marina), and Susan Bright (Nick’s).

Because Suttile’s business is outside Bloomington city limits, and it could theoretically receive a grant under the county’s program, he recused himself from Tuesday’s vote. When the FABTAC made a recommendation on the use of $2 million from the city’s share of the food and beverage money for its loan program, the two merchants located in the city did not participate in the vote.

Tuesday’s FABTAC vote was 5–0–1.

County commissioners have already approved $168,314 in grant awards to 20 different businesses, ranging from $1,800 to $23,000.

Tied to the possibility of allocating food and beverage tax funds for COVID-19 relief, instead of its explicit statutory purpose, is Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s most recent extension of his emergency order, which expires June 4.

County attorney Jeff Cockerill, confirmed at Tuesday’s FABTAC meeting that the clearest case for the county to be able to use food beverage tax money for COVID-19 relief is during an emergency order from the governor. The county commissioners have extended their own emergency order, but once the governor’s order expires, according to Cockerill, it will not be as easy to make the argument.

Based on the guidance from the State Board of Accounts (SBOA), Cockerill thinks that as long as a governor’s emergency order leaves any restrictions on business activity in place, the use of food and beverage tax money for business relief could pass muster with the SBOA.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Volan asked Thomas if she was worried that the county would not be able to complete all of the steps for making allocations on a fast enough timeline. Thomas said she was not “worried” but rather aware of the implications of the governor’s order expiring.

The crucial determination from the SBOA’s point of view, is that the use of dedicated funds, like proceeds from the food and beverage tax, is for an emergency purpose that is more closely related to the dedicated funds than the general fund.

Food and beverage tax money comes with the statutory restriction that it be used for the convention center expansion or for related tourism and economic development projects. That’s why the COVID-19 relief money is still restricted to tourism-related businesses,

The tie to tourism is one of the four criteria used by county commissioners in reviewing applicants for the COVID-19 grant program. The other three criteria are: showing the business suffered a loss; explaining what the grant money would fund; description of other federal and state programs the business is applying for.

The county’s portion of the food and beverage tax, as contrasted with the city of Bloomington’s share, is not going towards the convention center expansion in any case.

Of the roughly $700,000 in the county’s shared of unexpended food and beverage tax funds, $500,000 has been approved for a limestone destination heritage site. The remaining $200,000 was approved for the first wave of the county’s COVID-19 relief funding. The second $200,000 looks like it will start to chip away at the half million dollars that has been set aside for the limestone heritage site.

During public commentary at the Tuesday FABTAC meeting, county councilor Geoff McKim said he fully supports the second $200,000. McKim had also used public commentary time to express his support last week, when commissioners voted to make the second request of the FABTAC.

Approved May 1, 2020

Grantee Amount
TJV Balloons, Inc. $4,462
Total $4,462

Approved April 29, 2020

Grantee Amount
Eagle Pointe (golf course, bar, venue) $23,000
Port Hole Inn $20,000
Cabin Restaurant and Lounge $10,500
Beaumont House (bed and breakfast) $10,000
Whippoorwill Hill (farm event venue) $10,000
Sugar Daddy’s Cakes & Catering Cafe $8,000
Rieman Properties $6,500
Westbury Antique Market $5,000
Dance Machine DJ Services $2,500
Total $95,500

Approved April 22, 2020

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