SOUTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. – South Whitehall Township will set aside $115,000 to help small businesses get through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Businesses with gross receipts of less than $750,000 in 2019 or 2020 will be eligible to apply for grants up to $3,500.
The township board of commissioners approved the plan by a 3-2 vote Wednesday night after much discussion during recent meetings.
Matthew Mobilio, the commissioner who proposed the program, conceded that it might not make a big difference but said a grant could be "a lifeline" for a small operation.
When Commissioner Mike Wolk questioned using South Whitehall's reserve fund as the source of the $115,000, Mobilio responded that there is an urgent need and added, "This discussion is exactly what is wrong with government."
Mobilio and board President Tori Morgan voted for the plan, as did Commissioner Joseph Setton. Setton had questioned the value of the proposal earlier, but said Wednesday he did not want to see the grant program delayed.
Wolk voted against the plan, as did Vice President Diane Kelly, even though both said they support helping small businesses. Kelly objected to giving taxpayer money to businesses and said an earlier grant to the township from Lehigh County should have been the source of the funds.
Resident David Fritz said giving tax dollars to businesses is "bad economic policy." He said the township should not create social programs to redistribute tax dollars.
The Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce will market the program. Jessica O'Donnell of the Chamber said some businesses that did not receive help earlier in the pandemic are now having trouble paying their staff.
The $115,000 from South Whitehall's reserve fund is enough to provide about 33 grants, if each eligible business receives the $3,500 maximum.
Morgan addressed a lawsuit filed recently against a former township police officer, as well as the township and unnamed police officers. In the federal suit, a woman alleged that the now ex-officer sexually assaulted her while she was heavily intoxicated.
Morgan pointed out that the allegations involve an employee who was fired almost two years ago, and that an investigation by the Pennsylvania State Police and Lehigh County District Attorney's office determined that no charges were warranted.
The township police department is accredited, and Morgan said South Whitehall "is greatly appreciative of their service." She added, "Any claim that the township does not exercise appropriate oversight of its police department" is without merit.
In other business, the supervisors approved a $39,400 contract with Omnes, a landscape architecture firm based at the Simon Silk Mill in Easton, for a site plan for Kohler Ridge Park. Mike Kukitz, township parks and recreation manager, said Omnes was one of 21 bidders.
Township Manager Renee Bickel said the renovation of the South Whitehall municipal campus on Walbert Avenue is on target financially. However, there have been some delays in work being completed because of COVID-19 outbreaks among contractors.