A group of leaders from the city of Tuscaloosa gave updates on a range of issues Friday as part of a Zoom call with the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, touching on topics from small business relief funding to the city's ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brendan Moore, the city’s executive director of urban development, told the group that Tuscaloosa’s Small Business Relief Fund has been successful in its efforts of providing supplemental support to the local economy, with more than $80,000 still available to those impacted by the economic downturn.
“We’ve been working with the Chamber to put in a July 31 deadline for applications,” Moore said. “If anyone is interested, they can call 311.”
The Chamber said in an announcement Friday afternoon that, following the latest round of awards, the Small Business Relief Fund has now disbursed $1,167,471 to local small businesses impacted by COVID-19, assisting 267 total thus far throughout the nine-county region.
Donations are also still being accepted for private funding.
Those eligible for funds donated under the Elevate Tuscaloosa initiative must meet the following requirements:
Must be located within the city limits.
Must have experienced a financial hardship as a result of COVID-19.
Must have 50 or fewer full time employees as of February 29, 2020.
Must be in good standing with state and local government jurisdictions.
“No other sector has been more hard-hit by the COVID-19 crisis than our small businesses in Tuscaloosa,” Mayor Walt Maddox said in a statement Friday. “It’s my hope that through the city’s $1 million investment into the Small Business Relief Fund through Elevate Tuscaloosa, that the promise of tomorrow will be regained for these businesses.”
Vice President for Economic Development for the Chamber Barkley Garrett also noted there is still approximately $84,000 remaining in the fund.
“We at the Chamber, along with our friends at the Community Foundation, are thrilled to have been able to assist so many small businesses during this difficult time,” Garrett said in a statement. “We would like to encourage anyone who has experienced a financial hardship during the pandemic to apply for the remaining City of Tuscaloosa funds over the next week and take advantage of this unique opportunity.”
Associate City Attorney Scott Holmes, joined by Tuscaloosa Fire Chief Randy Smith, spoke to the state’s mask ordinance and city's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the city had responded to about 75 calls concerning face coverings.
“Last week, [Gov. Kay Ivey] and the state health officer mandated masks statewide,” he said. “It contained a local preemption, took our ordinance and set it aside as long as the state order is in effect.”
For instance, Holmes explained that while Tuscaloosa’s face-covering mandate required businesses to post signage, the state’s did not, thus removing the requirement for certain establishments.
“Should the statewide mask order expire on [July 31] our order would then go back into effect, expiring August 5, depending on council action,” he said.
While the city has received numerous calls concerning the ordinance, Holmes pointed out that many of the calls were to report non-compliance. Holmes explained the city’s approach to answering calls, saying in the case of a business with employees not wearing masks, the city would then dispatch an officer to “educate” the establishment.
If the response is involving a citizen, he said, the city has tracked the calls but hasn't sent law enforcement to respond as of yet.
Apart from the mask debate and mandates governing its use, Holmes said the city had gained a wealth of knowledge since March, with one aspect being how much the city’s staff is dependent on the local school system for child care.
Patch reported Wednesday that Tuscaloosa City Schools opted to begin the semester with exclusively virtual learning, while county schools have offered options for in-person or virtual learning.
“We are trying to utilize the fact we have a lead time before it starts,” Holmes said. “We’re trying to prepare for the reality that as soon as our schools go back, there will be breaks, times when a class has to quarantine. One of the things we’re doing is trying to gauge the number of our city staff who will be impacted and where they are located in the city."