Small businesses in North Whidbey are now able to apply for CARES Act funding intended to help recoup losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
City officials hope to get the grant money out the door as soon as possible, but the process has had an unforeseen complication.
Applications are available at the City of Oak Harbor website and are due by 5 p.m. on June 23. The city will then internally review the applications and publish which businesses will receive the funds on July 10. Businesses that did not qualify will be placed on a waitlist.
During its last meeting, the Oak Harbor City Council voted to partner with the chamber to coordinate the grant application process. There was some dissent during the meeting as to whether or not the chamber could handle administering the applications for funds from the various businesses.
Miranda Hoppock, who was director at the time, said she was confident that the chamber could administer the applications and relief funds.
“I don’t feel there is going to be any issue,” Hoppock said during the meeting. “I am confident that we as chamber staff are more than capable of doing this.”
A few days later, however, she vacated her position. Vicki Graham, who had been the interim events coordinator, was recently named interim director.
City Public Information Officer Sabrina Combs said city leaders felt that chamber had enough to deal with because of the change in leadership and decided to administer the grants internally. The city hired someone to oversee the application process. Combs said the chamber would still help the city by assisting businesses and promoting the program.
The city has combined part of the small-business grant funding with Island County money to form the North Whidbey Relief Program.
Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson first proposed using the CARES Act funding for the joint fund. City officials agreed to organize the effort and met frequently with the Oak Harbor chamber.
Johnson said she credits Oborn with his efforts to bring the grant program to fruition, but she’s concerned that the chamber’s last-minute change means struggling businesses will have to wait longer to get the relief they need.
“I’m unclear as to why the chamber backed away at the last minute,” Johnson said. “They were not expressing concerns while we were developing the program and they were engaged in conversations all along the way.”
The chamber board did not respond to a request for a comment.
The city received $689,100 in federal CARES funding from Island County. Half of the funding will be used for the city’s COVID-19 related expenditures and the other half, $344,550, will be designated as part of the North Whidbey Island Small Business Relief Fund.
The city will combine the CARES funding with $333,333 initially from Island County for a total of $677,883 in relief funding for businesses in the 98277 zip code.
To apply visit www.oakharbor.org/community/page/cares-grant-funding