The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission discussed a proposed resiliency package for the county, which would provide financial aid for people and businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic during an online work session Tuesday evening.
Commissioners passed an ordinance March 19 including language ordering county Manager Blaine Williams to allocate up to $3 million in funds to provide assistance to those affected by the disease. Williams recommended a total of $6.42 million in funds be used across several relief programs, including a $1 million small business revolving loan program and a $3.42 million public utility rate reduction for all ratepayers.
Local businesses affected by the outbreak may also receive aid from the federal government through the Small Business Administration. The SBA is providing a paycheck protection program, which gives small businesses up to $10 million for expenses associated with payroll. Businesses can also apply for a loan advance of up to $10,000 for emergency relief, said interim Emergency Management Coordinator J.W. Thaxton.
The local small business revolving loan program would provide bridge funding to SBA programs for small businesses to pay rent, mortgages or payroll until they get more secure funding. The loans would be up to $5,000 and would be repaid starting a year after the end of the emergency declaration at 1% interest. The interest would be refunded to the business if the loan is repaid within a year after the end of the declared emergency.
Williams also suggested an emergency assistance program which would aid community partners to provide rent, utility and food assistance to those impacted, as well as hotel, motel or other shelter provisions for the county’s homeless population.
Commissioners also unanimously passed a resolution calling for landlords and mortgage holders to freeze rents, halt evictions and foreclosures and waive late fees for residents and property owners who fail to pay on time due to impacts from the COVID-19 outbreak.
The resolution also calls on Gov. Brian Kemp and President Donald Trump to impose a moratorium on residential and commercial rents and mortgages, so that renters and property owners would not be required to pay rent during the health emergency.
District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker and District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson wrote the resolution. District 4 Commissioner Allison Wright clarified the resolution was only a “call for action” and that the Mayor and Commission could not do anything to “follow up” on some of the ideas in the resolution.
Mayor Kelly Girtz said he anticipates an extension of the local emergency ordinance at the commission’s next voting meeting on April 7.
“Scientists are saying right now … We’re looking at a June timeframe before we get back to anything approaching normalcy,” Girtz said. “So, I probably imagine us moving in a kind of one-month extension with some potentially modest modifications.”
Williams also presented an updated county budget update for fiscal year 2021. According to Williams’ presentation, the estimates in the budget assume the COVID-19 prevention measures — social distancing, the shelter-in-place ordinance and limited group gatherings — will be lifted in one or two months, and extension of the measures beyond that will require adjustments.