“I think it’s important to send the signal that we’re listening,” said Regina Mayor Michael Fougere, “and that as best as we can we’re gonna help out.”
If approved during the July 29 city council meeting, the Economic Recovery Grant Program will be worth $2 million in total and will be given out in grants of $1,000 to $25,000.
The money would come from the City of Regina’s General Fund Reserve. Any business operating within Regina city limits could apply though they would have to meet a set of criteria determining the extent of the pandemic’s impact on their operations and livelihood.
The proposed program is also designed with a phased approach that would see 40 per cent of the funding available from August to December of this year for “immediate and critical needs,” such as personal protective equipment, according to a report to executive committee.
The report states the second phase would see the remaining 60 per cent of the funding doled out from January to December of 2021 for ” longer-term, more strategic work to diversify the economy and create sustainable opportunities to meet the changing marketplace.”
On April 15, Council received a request from the Regina & District Chamber of Commerce (R&DCC) to provide a 25 per cent municipal non-residential property tax deferral to be repaid over five years.
However, due to provincial legislation, the City of Regina was unable to fulfill that request.
“The Cities Act specifically prohibits the deferral, cancellation, reduction or refund of property taxes for an entire class or subclass of properties,” said Regina’s executive director of financial strategy and sustainability Barrey Lacey.
Instead, council requested a report, developed alongside the R&DCC, related to the request in which the grant program framework is contained.
Debate on the report lasted hours, with several councillors bringing forward amendments, but only one was ultimately voted through.
That amendment, put on the floor by Ward 2 Councillor Bob Hawkins, requested the Regina & District Chamber of Commerce be removed as an administrator of any approved program. The organization was set help process applications as the plan was originally written.
Hawkins, though, saw further involvement of the chamber as a conflict of interest.
“The purpose of the amendment,” Hawkins told Henry Baker Hall, “is to show that in the granting of public monies the city’s administration takes charge of the oversight to ensure fairness is respected.”
Instead, whatever program is ultimately approved will be administered internally.
“They’ll be involved in some of the consultation, but they will not run the program,” Fougere added.
If the program is approved as written, the grants will require matching contributions from applicants.
That point of the plan drew criticism from a delegation to the committee meeting.
“I think we’ll see business owners review the criteria and see the fact that they’ll need to fork over thousands of dollars for the program,” said Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (Policy Analyst Jennifer Henshaw, “and they’ll say ‘yeah we need the help, but no I can’t afford it.’”
Henshaw also criticized the proposed program’s phased nature.
“Businesses need that help now, not a year and a half from now,” she said. “These are businesses that were thriving and through no fault of their own they were closed.”
Henshaw also took issue with the nine application criteria listed in the report.
“We need some clarity into what exactly business owners need to demonstrate. We’ve seen it in the federal and provincial programs and we need to see it here,” she said. “The language that is being used is a little bit vague.”
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