Commissioners in Madison County have advanced plans to launch two programs to help local small businesses and individuals affected by the coronavirus. Both projects were pushed forward during the May 19 Board of Directors meeting in person with social distancing activities held at the Cooperative Extension Center in Marshall.
The Madison County Small Business Fund would offer loans of up to $ 10,000 to companies of 25 employees or less with a physical location in Madison County. According to Terry Bellamy, Madison County’s director of community and economic development, the initial terms include a 4% interest rate for six months. In a presentation to commissioners, she said the program is designed to help locally run businesses that have struggled to get support from federal and state initiatives launched after the economic crisis sparked by COVID-19.
Federal funds given to local governments through the CARES Act would provide the bulk of the financial support for the small business credit facility. Madison County is expected to receive nearly $ 604,000 from the bipartisan coronavirus relief package, of which $ 75,000 is now earmarked for the local small business fund. Should private donations flow to support the efforts, the total credit pot could rise to 125,000 USD; the Madison County Rotary Club and Madison County Chamber of Commerce have contributed to this effort.
Mountain Biz Works would manage the loan program, and County Attorney Donny Laws called it a “proven vehicle,” similar to the efforts developed in neighboring Buncombe County. The commissioners unanimously voted to sign the terms of a contract with the Asheville-based nonprofit small business lender to set up the credit facility. A public hearing and further vote by the commissioners would be required before local funding can be allocated to the small business lending program.
Commissioner Norris Gentry described the Madison County Small Business Fund as a way to pass federal money given to local government on to small businesses, while Commissioner Matthew Wechtel stressed that money borrowed from businesses would go back to the county coffers.
“This money, the way it is set up, will eventually flow back to Madison County when the loans are paid back,” said Wechtel. “This is the money we are raising to support this program.” On a May 21 phone call, he added that lending decisions are made solely by Mountain Biz Works employees.
Madison Friendship Fund
County Manager Mark Pullium outlined a second program for commissioners called the Madison Friendship Fund to help individual residents of the county who “have been negatively affected by COVID-19.” Starting a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit would manage small grants that would be given directly to residents who have lost incomes due to the coronavirus crisis, helping individuals and families cover expenses such as utility bills and rent payments.
While Pullium said a committee that formed the nonprofit had requested $ 75,000 from the county’s CARES bill, he did not ask commissioners to vote on the project, which was still in its early stages. “I’m just sharing the current work with you so that you and the citizens will know that we are trying to develop a broader approach that addresses some needs.”
In addition to creating programs to help small businesses and individuals, federal funds are distributed to the county’s three communities: Hot Springs, Marshall, and Mars Hill. Pullium stressed that funding from the CARES Act was “conditional” and that an intergovernmental agreement was needed to ensure that every city “follows the same rules as us” on how federal grants are issued. Pullium said the county must follow a number of accounting policies to ensure that CARES funds are spent on coronavirus-related expenses and cities are subject to the same oversight.
According to a formula that divides the county’s CARES bill based on population, the city of Mars Hill would receive $ 48,793, Marshall would receive $ 21,755, and Hot Springs would receive $ 13,815. According to Pullium, the federal funds did not arrive in local government accounts as of May 21.
EMS contract concluded
With a 3-1 vote, the commissioners signed a contract with Ashe-Watauga Medics to provide ambulance services in Madison County for a total of $ 8.4 million over the next five years. The contract, which averages around $ 1.7 million annually, marks the end of the county’s 30-year relationship with Mission Hospital ambulance services. The new provider takes over on July 1st.
Before the vote, Commissioner Mark Snelson, who currently works as a supervisor at Mission Hospital EMS in Madison County, made sure that in contract language, two paramedics – not a paramedic and a less trained ambulance – are manned around the clock in ambulances stationed in Marshall , Mars Hill and Hot Springs. With Snelson, a potential employee of the new provider, he declined to vote because of possible conflicts of interest. Commissioner Wayne Brigman voted against the agreement.
Public Records Policy
The commissioners also voted in favor of adopting a new public records policy, which will charge those who apply for the costs associated with collecting and providing the requested information. Pullium drafted a policy that now charges the person or group making the request $ 27 per hour if those requests require “extensive use of office, supervisory or IT resources” by employees of the District require.
Pullium said the charges were not intended as a barrier to public information that Wechtel would question. “The idea is that if it’s a simple request that we can handle in a few minutes, we are unlikely to incriminate anyone,” said Pullium.
When asked whether the charges and the new policy comply with state public records laws, County Attorney Donny Laws affirmed it. Laws expressed their support for the policy he said he did not co-write. Mandy Bradley, secretary of the board of commissioners, said the Asheville law firm Roberts & Stevens had worked with county employees on the policy.
Existing documentation requests are subject to the new policy and possible fees.
News and notices
Commissioners will meet for their first budget meeting on May 29 at the Cooperative Extension Office, starting at 9 a.m. The district’s expenditure and income plan must be available by the end of June … AB-Tech. “Frances never misses an opportunity to stand up for Madison County,” said Wechtel of the longtime educator’s reappointment.