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Towns offer emergency assistance to businesses

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DEERFIELD VALLEY — With local businesses experiencing difficult times due to closures in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, two towns largely affected by a premature end to the ski season have created programs to help.

Dover is offering grants and Wilmington is offering loans.

Dover's Commercial Emergency Assistance Program was approved by the Select Board during a meeting last week.

"We wanted to be proactive in terms of supporting our business community in reaction to the COVID-19 State of Emergency that is in place," Steve Neratko, the town's economic development director, said in an email response to the Reformer.

Dover-based businesses can receive as much as $1,000 a month in grant funding. The purpose is to "offset the negative impacts of the emergency," Neratko said.

The board approved an initial $100,000 for the effort from 1 percent local option tax sales revenue. That revenue is reserved for economic development within the community.

"As far as I can tell, Dover is the first community in the nation that has put together such a program for its businesses in this difficult time," Neratko said. "It is a blessing that we have a surplus of economic development funds to allow us to do this. Businesses in Dover will be a step ahead in terms of recovery due to the quick action of the town."

West Dover hosts Mount Snow, the ski resort that had its last day on March 14, about two weeks before the state would require such action. Many businesses in town are dependent on the resort's guests.

As of Monday morning, about 35 grant applications have been submitted, said Shannon Wheeler, the town's economic development assistant. She told the Reformer a few more have been in communication with her department.

The program gives the Select Board authority to approve applications at its discretion. Eligible are any for-profit businesses within the town that began operating before Jan. 1 and have been open during that month and February.

Applications are available at doververmont.com. The town's Economic Development Department will review applications then schedule a time for the board to consider them.

Once approved, businesses will continue to receive monthly assistance until the state of emergency of Vermont is lifted, all businesses are allowed to continue normal operation within Vermont, the funding for the program runs out or the Select Board ends the program.

Wilmington's Disaster Resiliency Revolving Loan Program was created for businesses hit hard by the coronavirus crisis. Gretchen Havreluk, economic development consultant for the town, said she has been in contact with businesses around the Deerfield Valley.

"These calls are very, very difficult to hear," she said during a special Select Board meeting held Wednesday by videoconference. "Our small businesses are really key to our economy and to the future of Wilmington."

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Local businesses are anticipated by Havreluk to be hit worse than they were nine years ago when Tropical Storm Irene flooded parts of the community. She said the COVID-19 pandemic will affect every business.

The Select Board approved the creation of a new loan program using $100,000 from 1 percent local option sales tax revenue. Havreluk said the money is not meant for recovery yet.

"We're in the middle of a crisis," she said.

Eligibility rules allow any Wilmington-based for-profit corporation, partnership, sole proprietorship or limited liability corporation to apply for a loan if they started operating before Jan. 1 and remained open until a state of emergency was declared in Vermont on March 13. They must be current on town taxes and cannot have citations from the Wilmington Police Department for illegal activities.

A maximum of $20,000 will be loaned out to each applicant at an interest rate of 0 percent. Repayment will begin after the state of emergency declaration is lifted or Aug. 1, whichever date is later. The Select Board will make final decisions on applications.

Meg Staloff, program coordinator for the downtown organization Wilmington Works, said many businesses do not need a lot of money but a quick loan to cover expenses. That, she added, will help landlords pay taxes and maintain properties.

The program differs from a grant program approved in Dover last week using the same source of revenue. Businesses in the neighboring town can apply for $1,000 a month.

"Dover is in a much different position than the town of Wilmington is with their 1 percent local option tax money," Havreluk said. "They have been doing it much longer. They have much more in their 1 percent fund. I'm talking over $1 million. And I don't think the town of Wilmington is at liberty to just give that much money. I mean we need to keep things rolling."

Adam Grinold, executive director of Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. and a Wilmington resident, said his group can provide $20,000 loans to businesses with 10 or less employees. With a loan from BDCC and the town, he added, "that can make an impactful difference."

BDCC's interest rates on the loans have dropped from 7 percent to 2 percent "in light of COVID," Grinold said.

Grinold described hearing how businesses are planning to be forced to close.

"This is not easy," he said.

Wilmington has about 100 businesses, Town Manager Scott Tucker estimated.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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