Union County Development Corporation executive director Melissa Browning asked Union County Commissioners for their support seeking a small business grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) at their Jan. 8 meeting.

OCRA has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with a multi-phase grant program initiated in the spring of 2020. A group effort, including the Union County Health Department, Union County Foundation, UCDC, as well as concerned citizens and county officials, led to the county being awarded $80,000 in Phase 1 of the COVID-19 response program. The health department was able to get a jump on COVID testing with $70,000 and $10,000 was earmarked to operate a public WiFi system, which is expected to be up and running. Visitors to OCRA’s website, in.gov/ocra/, may even recognize some friendly, local faces gracing the site’s homepage.

Phase 2 grant funding was not sought by the county, but when Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch announced Phase 3 on Dec. 7, 2020, Browning sprung into action. The grant offers up to $250,000 of funding and can be used to fund mental health services, childcare services, public WiFi locations, food pantry or bank services, subsistence payment programs or grants or loans to small businesses.

UCDC is working with certified grant administrator Greg Beumer of Kleinpeter Consulting Group of Whiteland. Beumer expressed to commissioners the desire to seek funding to support small businesses, but they would need to decide whether to offer $25,000 loans or $10,000 grants. If the grant is awarded, decisions on who receives funding and how much, will be decided locally. Non-profit organizations are not eligible. Beumer asked commissioners to commit to a $2,000 local match to cover grant writing and administration expenses. Kleinpeter’s fee will be waived if the grant is not awarded.

“With what current interest rates are, a low interest rate loan is not the gift it used to be,” stated commissioner Howard Curry.

“I am not a business owner, but I if it was me, I’d take the $10,000,” noted commissioner Tim Williams.

“I am a business owner, and I don’t want to borrow money from the government any more than I have to,” replied Curry.

“There are multiple reasons why I would recommend going the grant route. If you go the loan route and they repay that money, that money has a reporting requirement. So, I would say, give them the check,” added Beumer.

Curry made a motion to pursue the OCRA grant to offer small business grants, up to $10,000, under the assumption the county will pay the $2,000 consulting fee if the grant is awarded. Commission president seconded the motion and the board voted to approve.

Browning is working to collect letters of support to be submitted by Jan. 29. Anyone interested in submitting a letter of support can contact Browning for details at unioncodc@etczone.com or 765-580-1988. Next week, applications for the grant will be mailed to small businesses throughout  Union County, Browning asks any business that does not receive an application, but is interested in applying, to contact her. Applications must be submitted to the state by Feb. 26. OCRA is scheduled to announce awards April 1.

Also discussed:

- Spirit Medical Transport president and CEO Brian Hathaway presented his final monthly ambulance report for December 2020. He reported a seamless transition transition to Reid Health, who will provide ambulance service to Union County, although Spirit is in talks to provide backup service if the need arises. Hathaway thanked commissioners for their letter of support, which helped Spirit to secure a contract to provide service in Shelby County, Ohio.

“We would like to wish everyone best wishes in the new year. It has been a privilege to serve the county from March 15, 2017 to Dec. 31, 2020. We wish everyone the very best in the years to come, knowing we plan to remain in this community and continue to support it no differently than we always have in the past. For those patients from the county who have come to know and trust us as their provider of choice and are now calling us directly for their emergency needs, please know we appreciate your devotion to our high level of compassionate care.” stated Hathaway.

- Commissioners discussed plans concerning the former waterworks building, which was offered to the county by the Union County Historical Society. Curry will work to get quotes on needed repairs to the building.