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Johnson County commissioners approved 19 grants of $5,000 each for county businesses during their Monday called meeting. Commissioners will vote on the second, and final, round of grant applications during their next regularly-scheduled meeting.

Commissioner Jerry Stringer suggested the grant program earlier this summer to assist businesses in unincorporated county areas that struggled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are more businesses out in the unincorporated areas of the county than you’d think,” Stringer said at the time. “I drove around the other day and counted quite a few. We’re doing this for unincorporated parts of the county only. Burleson, Cleburne and some of the other cities have their own programs for businesses in their towns.”

Funding for the grants derived from the $4 million the county received in CARES Act grants to cover reimbursement of various COVID-19-related costs encountered. Some of that money, Stringer said, may be used for payroll costs and/or small business grants.

“I thought it was one thing we could do for our small businesses,” Stringer said. “The virus is worldwide, but it was local governments who shut things down. I’m not a liberal-spending Democrat, but we helped create this program by shutting down. I talked to some of the other counties who are doing this and it seems to be working well in those places.”

Commissioners approved the program on July 6 and set Aug. 15 as the deadline for applications.

Commissioners carried the program out in partnership with the Johnson County Economic Development Commission. JCEDC Executive Director Diana Miller and her staff accepted and vetted the applications.

“And I want to thank them,” Stringer said. “They didn’t have to participate in this but there was no hesitation on their part. They immediately said they absolutely wanted to help.”

County Judge Roger Harmon thanked Miller and staff as well adding that administering the program in such a short time was a huge task.

“We received a lot of applications,” Harmon said. “Unfortunately, a lot of people also tried to abuse the system. And thanks to Diana for doing a good job on the vetting process to weed those applications out. And shame on those who tried to take advantage on a program that’s meant to help our small businesses out.”

Several who applied do not have businesses that appear to be legitimate, Miller said, or have businesses located within one of the county’s cities.

Commissioners initially hoped to award 100 grants. The reality of what the county has spent so far in CARES Act funding reimbursable costs versus the guidelines of how much the county can allocate toward business grants soon made it obvious that the county will not be able to spend enough by the CARES Act’s Dec. 30 deadline to allow for 100 grants.

Of the $4 million available in reimbursable grant funding, Johnson County will probably spend about $1.5 million by the December deadline, Harmon said.

“We wish we would have had the funding for more,” Harmon said. “But we’re glad that we’ve been able to help some of our local businesses.”

Overall, 72 businesses applied for the $5,000 grants, Miller said.

“We’re asking you to approve 19 today,” Miller said. “In the second round we’ll be bringing about 12 more applications for approval. We’re still looking at several applications. In the end, the grants the county pays out should total about $150,000 or so.”

Businesses receiving the grants must provide documentation of how the money was spent to the county auditor’s office within 90 days of receipt, Miller said.

“The list of items they can use the funds for covers a wide range from payroll costs, business inventory and utility bills to cleaning and sanitizing costs related to COVID-19,” Miller said.

The list of businesses approved on Monday ranged from restaurants to gymnasiums to repair shops and more.

Commissioner Larry Woolley said he was thrilled to see that one business owner who initially considered not applying for the grant went ahead and did so in the end.

“He told me that he didn’t want to take money away from someone else who might need it,” Woolley said. “I told him, ‘Look, your business closed then reopened on a limited basis. Your business is the poster child for one of these grants.’”

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