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Board OKs funds for relief program

By SARIT LASCHINSKY

Special to The Press

South Whitehall commissioners recently approved an ordinance which would dedicate $115,000 for a COVID-19 small business relief program.

The funds would be administered by the township in partnership with the Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Businesses in the municipality with gross receipts of $750,000 or less could apply for up to $3,500 to cover COVID-19 related expenses.

Township Solicitor Joe Zator, said during the Jan. 20 meeting, the $115,000 which was coming from the township’s fiscal stability fund, would be the limit of money to be spent, with no other funds authorized for expenditure.

Commissioner Matthew Mobilio, who had worked to propose and draft the program, acknowledged there was not universal support from all commissioners, particularly concerning where the money was coming from, but said all board members were interested in helping local businesses.

“At the end of the day, this program will help,” he said, “Will it change the course of many businesses that would have otherwise closed? I don’t know, but I know it’ll provide a lifeline that was not previously there.”

Board President Christina “Tori” Morgan said the program was an “excellent opportunity” to work with the Chamber of Commerce to the township’s benefit.

She called it an investment into the community and local economy.

Commissioner Diane Kelly voiced her support for small businesses but objected to the use of taxpayer money from the fiscal stability fund.

Kelly said the expiration date on COVID-19 grant funds from Lehigh County, which originally were set to expire Dec. 31, 2020, had been extended through the end of 2021.

Kelly said she would rather see the program tap into the county funds instead.

She said rent money for the township’s temporary offices in the Roma Building were covered by the COVID-19 county funds, but had also been budgeted into the previous year’s budget and were thus not COVID-related.

Commissioner Mike Wolk agreed with Kelly, and said taxpayer money should not be used for this program, though he commended Mobilio for his efforts and also said he supported small business relief.

He said the township received $326,000 from the county and, of that amount, the $138,000 for rent payments were non-COVID expenses as the rent was associated with the township’s ongoing campus renovation project.

Wolk said a “synergistic” and “open-minded” move by the board would be to use the county COVID-19 relief to support small business grants.

Morgan said the COVID-19 county funds had already been allocated, and rent was an allowable expense according to the county.

Commissioner Joe Setton said he supported the program as proposed by Mobilio, adding he would vote to approve.

“It is time sensitive. It is something that people need now, I do not want to delay this,” Setton said.

Jessica O’Donnell of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce stated many businesses are still reaching out to the Chamber in search of funds, even ones which did not receive any assistance in previous rounds of relief.

“With the future very much unknown, businesses are seeking funding,” she said. “They need anything to pay their employees, to keep the lights on, they are very scared and through your leadership this could quite possibly be a lifeline for these businesses.”

A motion to pass the ordinance as written passed 3-2 with Mobilio, Setton and Morgan voting in favor. Wolk and Kelly opposed.