[quote_box_right]WHAT: Maricopa City Council meeting
WHEN: June 16, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Maricopa City Hall, remotely available at https://www.youtube.com/user/myMaricopa20[/quote_box_right]

When executive orders closed nonessential businesses in Maricopa for 10 weeks to flatten the curve of COVID-19, the pain was felt quickly by small business owners.

They took a hit in rent, payroll, inventory and utility costs with minimal, if any, revenue  coming in. Those who relied on spring business to help them through the slow summer months were left with little to lean on.

For those deciding how to spend nearly $6 million in CARES Act money coming to Maricopa through the AZCares program, the plight of small businesses is a major focus. The same is true of the community’s nonprofits, as many saw a serious decline in contributions or were called on to overextend themselves to meet community needs.

Christian Price

Maricopa City Council received suggestions from 30 individuals and will discuss the ideas at an upcoming meeting.

“I am grateful that they echoed much of what I am leaning toward: a balance between our businesses and nonprofits in need,” Mayor Christian Price said. “But there is much more to it than that, so our staff is also analyzing some recommendations to be brought forth, that will help clarify and even broaden the categories of possibilities on who we can help.”

About a third of the submissions came from individuals asking the council to use the funds to support the Be Awesome Youth Coalition. There were also pleas to help local food banks, the Boys & Girls Club, STEAM education and other nonprofit organizations.

“The majority suggested small businesses and non-profits, which aligns well with my desires,” Vice Mayor Nancy Smith said. “Two suggestions were related to building affordable small business rental space, and one suggestion dealt with a medical facility. Those are great suggestions.”

Nancy Smith

Smith, who is running for re-election this year, said the City’s ongoing plans at Estrella Gin can help create small-business rentals.

The businesses who shared their plight with the council were a sampling of the impact COVID-19 had in Maricopa. That included a nail-salon owner staring at three months’ worth of rent, a catering company that lost at least 10 major events this spring while potential clients remain uncertain about planning future events, and a clothing boutique that had just opened its doors in February when nonessential stores were shuttered.

Councilwoman Julia Gusse, also up for election, said Maricopa should look ahead and take care of its own.

Julia Gusse (submitted photo)

“In my opinion, these funds will best be used to prepare us for what the future may hold,” Gusse said. “Being proactive rather than reactive and taking care of our own. All the public ideas should be taken into consideration, and I can see fulfilling many of these; food bank, small businesses, families, veterans and children affected by COVID…taking care of our own.”

Councilmember Vincent Manfredi outlined the specific spending he would like to see. That includes $1 million for a grant program for local small businesses and charities impacted by the COVID-19 closures, up to $3 million on infrastructure improvements “to help entice economic development and job growth,” up to $400,000 for food banks, and other funds for reimbursing COVID-related expenses, with the rest going into the City’s emergency contingency fund.

Vincent Manfredi
Vincent Manfredi

“I think economic development is what will drive our recovery,” Manfredi said.

The four outsiders challenging for the three seats available on council are also looking closely at the decisions that loom over City leaders.

Bob Marsh said he wants the City to use the funds exactly as outlined in the U.S. Treasury guidelines: medical expenses, including COVID-19 testing; public health expenses, including personal protection equipment; payroll expenses for employees dedicated to the emergency; expenses incurred by compliance with executive orders, including distance learning and working remotely; and economic support to small businesses, including grants.

Bob Marsh. Photo by Kyle Norby

“I think the coverages that will have the most positive impact in Maricopa are covering the costs of COVID-19 testing and providing economic support to small businesses,” Marsh said.

Linette Caroselli’s priority list includes helping small businesses get back on their feet, creating a utilities relief fund for residents, and funding programming for youth programs and resources, including help with online learning.

Linette Caroselli

“I would also like to see a significant donation to the food bank, funding to cover the cost of testing, public safety and public health employees,” Caroselli said. “In addition, donations to the homeless and women’s shelters in our community would also prove to be beneficial.”

Andre LaFond said the majority of the AZCares funds should go toward the construction of a “town center” area for affordable storefront space and low-interest business loans.

Andre LaFond (submitted photo)

“The cost of business space is higher in Maricopa than Scottsdale,” he said. “This prevents small businesses from easily moving from home-based to commercial space opportunities. The tax revenue along with the economic growth would be a great benefit to our city.”

Amber Liermann reiterated goals of the city council’s Strategic Plan, saying the council needs to keep those predetermined goals in mind.

Amber Liermann. Photo by Kyle Norby

“Protecting ‘quality growth and development’ and ‘economic development’ would continue to be my top two priorities,” she said. “The application process will be important to clearly identify specific needs in our community. Special consideration may be appropriate for healthcare providers including first responders.”

A former councilmember and vice mayor also shared her insight with the current council among the public submissions. Peggy Chapados said her top suggestions were recognizing “front-line” workers, helping businesses most impacted by COVID-19 and supporting nonprofits who provide food and aid.

She also suggested creating a process like the now-defunct Non-Profit Funding Initiative that would identify priorities with objective criteria.

“I know how we do everyday things will change, maybe a little, maybe a lot, and I also know first-hand what Maricopans are capable of, especially when we work together,” Chapados said.

Chopping up $5.98 million among the most deserving while COVID-19 is still impacting daily life in Maricopa is an illuminating challenge. It not only is about identifying those entities that should be entitled to funds but also creating the system for applying for them. That is something the council wants in place quickly.

“Hopefully, we will have some agreed-upon parameters to evaluate by this next council meeting so we can start getting this money into the hands of those who need it most,” Price said.

Vincent Manfredi is minority owner of InMaricopa.