EASTON, Pa. – Northampton County Council approved a plan Thursday to spend $30.6 million in federal pandemic-relief aid, with $15 million allocated for small businesses.
County Executive Lamont McClure's proposal also includes $5 million for nonprofit groups; $1 million to supplement the hotel-tax fund, which supports tourism; $1 million to help municipalities; $1 million to provide broadband internet for students; and $1 million for grants to emergency-service organizations such as ambulance squads and fire departments.
The county will keep the remaining $6 million for vaccinations, protective equipment, testing and hazard pay. Northampton is due to receive another $30 million in 2022.
Last year, the county dispensed $10.7 million in grants to 776 small businesses that lost revenue because of COVID-19. That helped some survive state-imposed shutdowns.
"Let's finish the job," McClure said in his pitch to council Thursday night. Customers are returning to small businesses, "but they are coming back slowly," he said. Information about the grant program will be posted on the county website.
Director of Fiscal Affairs Stephen Barron said the $15 million could provide 1,000 grants at the maximum $15,000 per business. The Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce will help administer the American Rescue Plan money, as it worked with the county last year to market grants provided by the federal CARES Act.
Councilman John Cusick asked that Northampton Community College be included in the $1 million set aside for schools. Barron said the administration will contact the college. NCC received $200,000 during the 2020 round of grants. Lehigh University, with an endowment of about $1.4 billion, received the same amount.
The federal pandemic aid will also cover hazard pay at Gracedale Nursing Home in Upper Nazareth Township. Some shifts for nurses will qualify for an extra 25%.
Council President Lori Vargo Heffner said a local eyesore is finally going to its demise.
"The Glendon Hotel is coming down," she said. The collapsing building, known for its large Sprite sign, in the small borough will be replaced by five low-income housing units. Vargo Heffner said a $100,000 state grant will help pay for demolition.
The meeting only lasted about an hour but when a discussion of "no smoking" signs in county parks lasted about 15 minutes, Councilman Kerry Myers objected to "nitpicking" and asked that the vote proceed.
Councilwoman Margaret Ferraro is not seeking reelection, leading her to refer to this final year on the board as her "swan song." She asked that the administration consider the need to study property reassessments and a salary scale, and to review Northampton's Home Rule Charter, which was approved in 1978. The charter serves as the county's constitution.
"There are several things that have been kicked down the road for too long," she said.
Earlier Wednesday during a personnel committee meeting, council discussed abolishing the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Committee — a now defunct "ghost committee" with a little-known origin.
Council's next regular meeting will be July 1.