DOVER — The Selectboard has approved a new emergency program aimed at supporting local businesses during the time of COVID-19.
The Commercial Emergency Assistance Program provides funding for Dover-based businesses hit by closures or other implications of the global pandemic.
Using money from taxes collected through the 1 percent local option sales tax, the program grants up to $1,000 a month to qualifying businesses.
During its first videoconference public meeting on March 24, the Selectboard allocated $100,000, a “starting point” amount that will be reviewed based on need and available resources.
Businesses that receive funds through the program will receive an allotted monthly amount, up to $1,000, for the duration of the program.
To qualify for the program, the business owner must be up-to-date in corporate filings with the Vermont Secretary of State and provide active federal and state business identification numbers.
The town's Economic Development Department and Selectboard will make sure each applicant meets the following criteria: that the business is in Dover, that it was in operation prior to Jan. 1, 2020, and that it was open during January and February.
A one-sheet application is available on the town's website at doververmont.com/node/1689.
The town made the application easy by design.
“We want to get money rolling next week if we can,” said Selectboard Vice-Chair Victoria Capitani.
The board also noted that this program is new and will need to be monitored as more businesses request funds. Also, it is impossible to predict the duration of the economic impact from COVID-19.
“The money will continue to be there, to the best of our ability, going forward,” Board member Sarah Shippee added.
Outgoing Economic Development Director Steve Neratko said that he spoke with some business owners about the initiative while researching the program.
It seems Dover will be the first town to offer such a program, Neratko said, and what businesses will need during the COVID-19 crisis will be “wide ranging.”
Neratko told the board that Dover has close to 400 corporations listed as active with the Secretary of State's office. He did not have an exact count of businesses, however, because some businesses hold multiple tax identification numbers.
Also, sole proprietors who operate a business under their own name are also not required to register a trade name with the office's Business Service Division.
“That $100,000 could go very quickly,” he warned.
Treasurer Marco Tallini asked if the program would apply to seasonal businesses that normally closed during the spring.
“They might not need help now, but what about June or July?” he asked.
Cohen said if the COVID-19 restrictions on businesses lasts longer than the spring months, the town could create a second “start back up” program.
Capitani echoed Cohen, saying the board needs to stay nimble and adjust with the situation.
Town Clerk Andy McLean said to the board, “I applaud your efforts and I think it's a wonderful use of the 1 percent money.”
He also suggested the board open the program to all enterprises owned by Dover residents regardless of the businesses' physical location.
“I don't think this is a time to pull up the drawbridge and exclude people,” McLean added.
The board decided, however, to prioritize businesses within the town limits.
Though the board can always revisit the requirement, Capitani added that other towns, such as neighboring Wilmington, are working on programs of their own, and added that she wanted to put Dover-based businesses first.
According to Shannon Wheeler, economic development assistant, the town had received approximately 35 applications with a few more businesses owners still in the correspondence phase.
The majority of those businesses requested the full monthly amount of $1,000.