RCCEDC head says wide variety of businesses applied
More than 100 businesses in the county and city have submitted grant applications for funding available through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
Michael Espiritu, president of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., said that his organization worked with both the city of Roswell and Chaves County officials to collect information and applications from businesses that want to receive funding to make up for lost income due to the pandemic or to cover the expenses to “redesign” their businesses to allow for COVID-safe practices or online and remote services.
“What we don’t know is how much they (the state) are going to allow us to ask for,” said Espiritu.
The state of New Mexico announced July 27 that $28 million of the CARES funding it had received from the federal government would go to tribal governments, with another $150 million to be given to municipalities and cities.
New Mexico has received $1.25 billion from the federal government, with the city of Albuquerque and the county of Bernalillo allocated $182.2 million of the state’s total.
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Of the $150 million going to local governments, $50 million is to be used to aid New Mexico-based small businesses statewide, defined as those with fewer than 50 employees and $2 million or less in annual revenues. Local governments were allowed to submit a Small Business Continuity Grant Program Plan as part of that effort.
“Once we know how much the city and county have been allocated, we can make determinations about how many grants we can distribute,” Espiritu said.
He said that businesses were not asked for funding amounts, but instead were requested to provide information about revenues and business operations during March and April 2020 compared to 2019 as a way to determine how businesses were affected by the coronavirus crisis and the public health orders requiring business closures or restrictions on operations.
The state has said that funding decisions are expected by Aug. 21.
Espiritu said that most of the business grant applications came from the city of Roswell, with about four or five from the Dexter and Hagerman area. He said a large range of businesses have sought funding, including gyms, construction companies and a medical services provider.
Chaves County has requested $1 million, said Bill Williams, public services director, and it intends to use whatever funding received to help both county and city businesses.
“There are fewer businesses in the (Pecos) Valley than in the city, so we see ourselves assisting businesses in the city,” Williams said.
He said that the New Mexico Counties, an association that advocates for and supports all 33 counties in the state, had distributed a matrix to help officials determine how to calculate their pandemic and emergency response expenses and losses and make a funding request.
Based on that matrix, he said that the county decided that the $1 million was justified. He also explained that the county’s gross receipts tax collections have gone down by $614,477 during recent months, compared to 2019, with the top industry sectors affected being retail, accommodations and food service. Another 11 industry categories also experienced some declines.
“We are just hopeful that they administer it equitably,” Williams said, “so if they reduce the amount requested, they reduce it the same for everyone.”
The city of Roswell did not respond to a request for information on its application, and Espiritu said he was unsure of how much it was going to request, if any amount.
Espiritu also said that some of the wording in local government funding applications had concerned him and others because it asked about pandemic-related enforcement actions taken by the county or city.
For example, item five of the local government’s application asks for a statement on “how your entity demonstrated enforcement effort,” which was to include a record of calls responded to and citations issued. Item six requests a statement on “how your entity demonstrated compliance with Public Health Orders.”
Both the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office and the Roswell City Council have acted contrary to some state orders.
While many businesses were to have their physical buildings closed from mid-March until about June 1 if they were deemed “non-essential” businesses, Sheriff Mike Herrington issued letters to a dozen or so local businesses giving them the county’s authorization to reopen, saying that he did so if owners could prove they could operate safely and if the owners’ livelihoods, homes and financial survival were at stake.
On July 23, the Roswell City Council approved a directive to the city manager to not enforce the state orders. It also voted to investigate the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the governor regarding the emergency and public health orders.
Espiritu said that he hasn’t seen similar wording in federal aid requests linking enforcement with funding and expressed hope businesses’ grant decisions will not be affected by the actions of government officials or bodies.
“They shouldn’t penalize businesses for the decisions of governments,” he said.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at email@example.com.