When you see how another county managed its COVID business grant program and compare it with how Schuylkill County ran its program, you might get a little upset.
You’d be more upset if you owned a business in Schuylkill County.
Just by looking to one our neighboring counties, you’d learn that its county government – the government that taxes your business – at least gives the appearance of wanting to help it through the COVID pandemic.
And then you look at how Schuylkill County managed its grant program and you learn that your business – perhaps seeking a little relief from the restrictions the county government, by way of the state government, enforced – is really in the way of their business.
But, of course, that’s not what Schuylkill County government officials would have you believe. If you heard them on Thursday, you’d hear the tale of how people worked weekends (even on Veteran’s Day!) to get businesses the relief they needed.
And you’d hear the struggle they faced just creating a program that was above board with the state and federal government. Because God forbid one of the needy businesses in the County made a mistake on their application for a grant and were mistakenly awarded a grand or two … that would set the County back decades, the way they put it.
But carry on, they did. All to help your business. And now, months later, we’ve reached the end of the road. All that hard work is in the rear-view mirror for the Schuylkill County government.
On Friday, some businesses started receiving word on their grant applications. Some were awarded, others denied.
Some businesses learned that they may have received up to $10,000 in a county grant (out of a potential pool of $12.7 million) to carry them through what has been the year from Hell. And others realized, they just wasted their time with a county government that didn’t really want to be bothered at all in the first place.
Tell Them What They’ve Won …
Why strike such a harsh tone? Because that’s the reality.
Since Day 1 when Schuylkill County received its $12.7 million CARES Act funding, small businesses, non-profits, and struggling municipalities were the furthest thing from the County government’s mind.
What was top of their mind was a list of projects that were absolutely necessary – gotta think about those strict regulators at the state and federal government who are watching every penny we’re spending – to get through the COVID pandemic alive. That included things like:
- A multi-million-dollar upgrade to the County 9-1-1 system that no one understands
- A new HVAC system for Schuylkill County Prison
- New touchless toilets, sink faucets and water fountains at County-owned buildings
- And all the hand sanitizer you could dream of.
It’s like Schuylkill County officials were the winners on some bizarre COVID game show.
And for the small businesses, non-profits, and municipalities … they got the parting gift.
Schuylkill County vs. Carbon County COVID Grant Programs
So, maybe Schuylkill County isn’t alone in the way it handled its CARES Act money. But it isn’t like our neighbors in Carbon County.
There, at least it seems on the surface, the small businesses, non-profits, et al, were Priority #1 with their CARES Act allotment.
Just as a starter, look at the Carbon County homepage on the web:
Right there on the front page is a big blue box inviting you to check out what they’re calling a Portal to learn more about its grant program.
On Schuylkill County’s homepage, no such link, and definitely no such huge oversized graphic to lure you into learning more about the grants.
But on Thursday, the County spent the better part of 20 minutes talking about its outreach and how successful they believe the grant program they ran was. But they barely did any outreach at all. In fact, they did the bare minimum to advertise the program. And then they blamed the media for not helping to advertise it.
Even if they did and you, as a business owner, missed the word on it, if you went to the County website to get some information, you wouldn’t find anything. It doesn’t exist. And if it does somewhere, it’s impossible to find.
Instead, the only mention Schuylkill County officials made of the grant program before it let a few people know about it and put it on them to get the word out was earlier this summer when Commissioners Chair Boots Hetherington told a public commentator if they wanted to know about the grant program that had never been advertised or promoted in any way, they’d have to “speak to Mr. Bender” about it.
Carbon County COVID Grant Transparency
But let’s not stop there in our comparison of Schuylkill County vs. Carbon County and its handling of the COVID business grant programs.
We followed the link on the Carbon homepage and found even more links to follow, all related to its grant program:
Links to an organizational structure, the applications process overview and even an expired link where a business could have downloaded an application.
Again, Schuylkill County doesn’t even have a link to information on its program, let alone all this from Carbon.
That’s probably because Schuylkill County didn’t think this through, or think about it at all. Once it rushed out an application that 90% of applying parties botched in some way, the applications were handed off to a third-party consultant to manage.
But in Carbon County, they had an organizational structure to it all. And being the transparent bunch they are up there, they even included a flow chart:
It’s almost as if the community in Carbon County took a stake in getting the businesses of their own community the relief they needed. Must be a weird feeling having a government serve you rather than you serving the government. And we notice that a representative from the third-party firm of Zelenkofske Axelrod LLC is listed on that organizational structure.
Now, this is one of the firms Schuylkill County hired, too. And it’s the same firm which Commissioners have said ran a tight ship with this CARES Act money so the County had to be doubly sure it was awarding grants that were absolutely needed. Because remember, one dime misspent could mean curtains for future generations in Schuylkill County.
Wonder why the consultant from Zelenkofske Axelrod didn’t make these same dire warnings to Carbon County. And if they did, why didn’t Carbon County hold back like we did here in Schuylkill County?
But wait, there’s more …
Here’s a look at an infographic outlining the stages of the grant application process. This way, a business can know when they might expect to hear from the county government about the status of their application:
And is this the right time to tell you that this is the application process for Round 2 of grants from Carbon County?
Yes, Round 1 was completed earlier this year. And some businesses in Carbon County got up to $100,000 to help offset their losses. In total, Round 1 of these grants dished out more than $3.6 million to businesses that took it on the chin this year all in the name of public safety.
We know this because Carbon County published this data on the web, too. It’s right here:
In Schuylkill County, the total amount awarded is about $700,000 and represents a little more than 7% of what the county received. Carbon County … and here’s the kicker … received less than half of what Schuylkill County got from the CARES Act, just $5.79 million. So, roughly, Carbon County has already given 62% of what it got to businesses, non-profits, and others in the form of grants.
There could be a lot of reasons why a lot of people find it difficult to do business in Schuylkill County. But this right here is easily the #1 reason.
- Schuylkill County Praises Itself for Work on the CARES Act Business Grant Program
- Schuylkill County Small Businesses Only Getting 7.6% of CARES Act Money
- No-Bid Contracts Another Way Schuylkill Commissioners Stick It to Local Small Business
- Schuylkill County Using CARES Act Money to Buy Touchless Water Fountains and Coolers
- New Price Tag for Schuylkill Prison HVAC System – $1.17 Million
- Flawed Applications Blamed for Stalled CARES Act Relief in Schuylkill County
- Schuylkill County Commissioner Frustrated by Non-Compliance
- Schuylkill County Agrees to Spend $855K More on 9-1-1 Project
- Schuylkill County to Spend $238K for a $5 Problem