Town of Gilbert water tower. (Photo: The Republic)

Gilbert will begin spending some of its nearly $30 million in coronavirus relief funding, three months after the town received the money. 

The Town Council will spend $18 million for business grants, loans and other support and $2 million for nonprofits. A majority of the remaining funds may go to a public safety project.

Gov. Doug Ducey in late May announced that Arizona cities, towns and counties would get $441 million of the state’s $1.86 billion of federal coronavirus relief money. 

Gilbert didn’t actually receive its $29.2 million “AZCares Fund” allocation until early July, according to town spokesperson Jennifer Harrison. The council formed a Cares subcommittee in August to discuss spending options.

An Arizona Republic analysis from mid-September found that while cities pleaded with the state for their share of the money, once they got it, many have been slow to funnel funds into the community to help businesses and residents struggling to stay afloat in the pandemic. 

Cities and counties with populations larger than 500,000, such as Phoenix and Mesa, received relief funds directly from the federal government in late April and were able to stand up relief programs quicker.

Although lagging some other communities, Gilbert now is jumping in with financial help for businesses and nonprofits.

A screenshot from a Gilbert presentation illustrating the planned allocation of $29.2 million in Cares funding. (Photo: Town of Gilbert)

Town: Business help coming at the right time

More than half of the town’s relief funding will support businesses hit financially in the pandemic.

The town plans to put $18 milliontoward a three-phase approach that includes: 

  • $11 million for business recovery grants to address current needs.
  • $5 million in low-interest loans for mid-term recovery.
  • $2 million in technical assistance programs for long-term success.

The grant program, which also will be open to nonprofits, will begin shortly, according to Dan Henderson, Gilbert’s economic development director, followed later by the loans and technical support. 

Henderson said the tiered program is coming at the right time for businesses in the town of some 250,000 residents southeast of Phoenix. Many businesses received federal funds in the early months of the pandemic, so the town will address current and long-term needs, he said. 

Gilbert businesses and nonprofits must check the following boxes to be eligible for the $11 million in grants:  

  • Lost at least 15% in revenue due to COVID-19 from March through August, compared to March to August 2019.  
  • Operated in Gilbert before March 11.
  • Received no other COVID-related funding from the town.
  • Have fewer than three physical locations in Gilbert.
  • Made less than $5 million in gross revenues in 2019. 

Businesses can get grants of up to $35,000, depending on their “positive financial impact” to the town. Impact is based on the number of employees, total annual payroll, sales tax, utility and lease payments and other metrics.

“The qualifying element of this is need,” Henderson said. “It doesn’t start with positive financial impact to the town — it starts with need. If a business can show that they have a need to access these programs, I believe that Council has created a program that meets the needs of all businesses.”

Applications will be open for 30 days and grants will be provided on a rolling basis until the funds are gone.

The online application is not yet open, but Henderson said it will be “sooner rather than later.”

Henderson said the town has surveyed businesses before and throughout the pandemic to understand their needs. It became clear that businesses need not only short-term financial assistance but also mid- and longer-term recovery and resiliency, he said. 

The town is contracting with Maricopa County Community College District to provide career and technical education programs for residents impacted by COVID-19 and coaching for local business owners as part of the third phase of the assistance program. 

Supporting nonprofits that help Gilbert residents

The council gave $2 million to nonprofits that run programs to help vulnerable residents, including rental and utility assistance.

  • AZCEND will support 2,250 Gilbert residents to stay in their homes by helping with rent, mortgage, utilities or other needs like food, jobs, shelter or counseling. 
  • Jewish Family & Children’s Services will aid 125 Gilbert residents with rent, mortgage, utilities, gas or phone cards for telehealth services.
  • The Salvation Army will help at least 169 residents or 48 households with rent or utility payments. 

The three nonprofits, along with notMYkid, Midwest Food Bank and Central Arizona Shelter Services, received the largest chunks of the town’s nonprofit pandemic relief funding. Nonprofits were able to apply for the funds between Aug. 31 and Sep. 13.

The nonprofit funding went towards programs to help what the town identified as “priority populations” due to COVID-19:

  • People needing mental health and substance abuse treatment.
  • Survivors of domestic abuse, sexual assault and human trafficking. 
  • Families in crisis and individuals and families experiencing homelessness. 
  • Elderly residents. 
  • Low to moderate income individuals and families. 
  • Youth in need of social services. 
  • People with special needs. 

Where the remaining money may go

Most of the town’s remaining $9.2 million has not yet been formally allocated, although a public safety proposal could take most of it.

Gilbert’s police and fire departments propose expanding its dispatch center with $8 million. Using the relief funding instead of scheduled capital funding would allow the town to complete the project about two years earlier. 

The proposal was well-received by the three council members on the subcommittee, and likely will be discussed by the full council in the coming weeks. 

A portion of the remaining relief funds, $400,000, was given to the town’s Parks and Recreation Department to provide residents with one-time coupons for reduced registration costs for a program, class or ramada rental. This also helps make up for the department’s revenue losses during COVID-19 closures.

Town Councilmember Kathy Tilque cast the lone vote against this, saying she would rather hold on to the money until hearing more about other possible needs, particularly given that the public safety proposal may take $8 million. 

Have a story about Gilbert or Mesa? Reach the reporter at Alison.Steinbac[email protected] or at 602-444-4282. Follow her on Twitter @alisteinbach.

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