Monroe County maxes out its $400K of COVID-19 relief using food and beverage tax money

At its regular meeting on Wednesday morning, the three-member board of Monroe County commissioners approved the 10th and probably final round of grants as part of its program to give relief to businesses and nonprofits that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That brought the total amount awarded by the county to right around $400,000, distributed to over 30 different entities involved in tourism-related enterprises.

The total amount of tax proceeds recommended by the food and beverage tax advisory commission (FABTAC) for the purpose COVID-19 relief by the county was $400,000.

One of the awards given by commissioners on Wednesday morning was a $10,000 loan to a previous grant recipient, Trailhead Enterprises. The money, which will pay for an air-conditioning unit, is supposed be paid back by Aug. 1, according to county attorney Margie Rice.

The other two grant awards on Wednesday went to Rising Star Gymnastics for $25,000 and The WonderLab Museum of Science, Health & Technology for $65,000.

The grant to WonderLab was the highest amount given to any entity since the first county grants were awarded on April 22. The $65,000 that will support WonderLab is more than double the second-highest grant amount.

Commissioner Julie Thomas, who did the interview for WonderLab’s application, said on Wednesday morning that WonderLab has created online programs, 12 a week, even though the building is closed. The museum is also working on converting its physical displays to no-touch exhibits.

Thomas reported that year 82,000 children visited the museum, 29 percent of them from other counties and 7 percent from out of state.

The grant from the county will help WonderLab with mortgage payments, rent for storage, utilities, payroll and benefits, Thomas said.

Thomas also reported that WonderLab has withdrawn from Bloomington’s parallel COVID-19 relief loan program using the food and beverage tax. According to Bloomington’s records, WonderLab had been approved for a $30,000 loan.

Originally, the city’s and the county’s programs were both delineated geographically—the county’s program was confined to those entities in Monroe County but outside the Bloomington city limits. Bloomington’s program is confined to just businesses and nonprofits inside the city limits.

WonderLab’s withdrawal from Bloomington’s loan program was consistent with the concern that city controller, Jeff Underwood, had expressed at a mid-June meeting of the food and beverage tax advisory commission (FABTAC).

County commissioners had asked the FABTAC to allow the county to revise the scope of its program to include any business or nonprofit that has a countywide mission and purpose. At that meeting the FABTAC agreed to extend eligibility to any entity “whose purpose and mission is to support the entire county in tourism related endeavors.”

The Monroe County History Center was the first entity to benefit from the revised policy. WonderLab was the second.

During public comment at Wednesday’s meeting, Karen Jepson-Innes, executive director at WonderLab, thanked commissioners for considering her request. In each of the last two years, Jepson-Innes, said, from March through June, WonderLab has earned around $300,000 in revenue. That’s decreased to $44,000 during same time period, this year, she said. That translates to a funding gap through the rest of the year of about $212,000. The county’s grant means that the gap will be reduced by about 30 percent, Jepson-Innes said.

When WonderLab opens to the public in early August, Jepson-Innes said, masks will be required for visitors age 2 and up. The museum is working on a “masks up” campaign, with messaging and photos as a way of promoting, the “new normal,” Jepson Innes said.

Erin Booher, with Rising Star Gymnastics, also spoke during public commentary on Wednesday to thank commissioners for their $25,000 grant. As her voice faltered, Booher said she was “sobbing with gratefulness.”

Bloomington’s complementary $2-million loan program, also using food and beverage tax proceeds, is restricted to businesses and nonprofits physically located inside the city limits.

Both relief programs are restricted to entities that have a tourism-related purpose, which stems from the statutory purpose of the food and beverage tax. The primary statutory purpose is to pay for the convention center expansion, but secondarily to promote tourism-related purposes. Any consideration for planning of  the convention center expansion has been put on hold for at least the end of the year.

Bloomington has lent out $939,600 under it’s up-to-$2-million loan program.

Note: The tally maintained by The Square Beacon of total grant awards by the county is different from (higher than) the county’s total by $1,200. That’s the exact amount of one of the grant awards, to On Pointe Pet Sitting Services. So The Square Beacon is checking with county officials to see if the discrepancy can be resolved in a way that lets the numbers add up the same total.

Monroe County food and beverage tax COVID-19 relief sorted by amount

GRANTEE Amount DATE Approved
WonderLab $65,000 2020-07-01
Rising Star Gymnastics $25,000 2020-07-01
The Monroe County History Center $23,225 2020-06-24
Eagle Pointe (golf course, bar, venue) $23,000 2020-04-29
The Golf Club at Eagle Point $22,500 2020-06-03
Port Hole Inn $20,000 2020-04-29
Knightridge, Inc. $15,274 2020-04-22
Sycamore Farm Bloomington, Inc. $14,218 2020-06-10
Whippoorwill Hill, LLC $13,500 2020-06-03
Cabin Restaurant and Lounge $10,500 2020-04-29
Fern Hills Club, Inc. $10,000 2020-06-03
Beaumont House (bed and breakfast) $10,000 2020-04-29
Whippoorwill Hill (farm event venue) $10,000 2020-04-29
Wee Willies West $10,000 2020-04-22
*Trailhead Enterprises, Inc. (loan) $10,000 2020-07-01
Big Sky Campgrounds $8,950 2020-04-22
Wampler House $8,900 2020-05-13
Cleaning Revolution $8,900 2020-05-13
Trailhead Enterprises, Inc. $8,528 2020-04-22
Sugar Daddy’s Cakes & Catering Cafe $8,000 2020-04-29
Kenneth Mobley, Inc. $7,100 2020-06-10
Back to Nature Cabins $7,000 2020-04-22
Rieman Properties $6,500 2020-04-29
Misfit Toy Enterprises $6,000 2020-06-24
Pili’s Party Taco $5,000 2020-05-20
Fishin’ Shedd $5,000 2020-05-13
Westbury Antique Market $5,000 2020-04-29
Sycamore Farms Bloomington, Inc. $5,000 2020-04-22
Terry’s Catering, LLC. $5,000 2020-04-22
The Black Sheep Boutique Co, LLC $5,000 2020-06-17
TJV Balloons, Inc. $4,462 2020-05-01
Robert Woodling Rentals $3,800 2020-04-22
U’sta-B-New $3,000 2020-04-22
Dance Machine DJ Services $2,500 2020-04-29
Bloomington Pub Quiz $1,810 2020-06-03
Trivia with Skip $1,800 2020-04-22
On Pointe Pet Sitting Services $1,200 2020-05-13
TOTAL $400,667