Easton directs money to broadband internet access, urban farm expansion
EASTON, Pa. — Easton City Council approved two resolutions to allow for better allocation of funds in the realm of community and business support Wednesday.
Council members approved two measures amending budgets for CARES Act and ARPA funding.
They directed remaining CARES Act cash to primarily assist community concerns related to internet access and an expansion of the urban farm, and reallocated money in the ARPA coffers to better assist local business owners.
- Easton City Council approved two resolutions amending CARES Act and ARPA funding
- Administrator Sean Ziller said the changes will help to better direct funding associated with those funds, particularly with small business assistance
- CARES Act funds will go to a few community-oriented projects, such as a pilot program offering internet access to those in need, while ARPA funds are set to provide loans and grants to local businesses affected by the pandemic
“The total amount of money didn't change. Due to certain constraints on the funding that we were not aware of before, we had to shift some things around and then in the various budgets,” said Councilman David O’Connell, who introduced the resolution on CARES Act funding.
CARES Act to help with internet and fresh food access
Department of Community and Economic Development administrator Sean Ziller explained the CARES Act amendment will direct funds already approved through the budget.
“It’s really three items through the CARES Act that we're looking to use funding,” Ziller said. “Council had already approved the CARES Act budget, so we came back to them to say this is how we are proposing using remaining funding.”
Ziller noted $150,000 will go toward launching a pilot program for broadband internet in the West Ward. The project is intended to provide equipment and services to families in need of internet access – particularly for those who work from home or have students – throughout the West Ward.
"We realized, as we've kind of started to come out of the pandemic, businesses are still struggling. They're certainly struggling with the inflationary impacts, so to be able to kind of use this rescue plan funding to support them was critical for the administration and for our Department of Community and Economic Development."Department of Community and Economic Development administrator Sean Ziller
Another item allocates $12,000 to expand an urban farm program at the Easton Area Neighborhood Center. The Easton Urban Farm works alongside the Neighborhood Center’s food pantry to help families procure fresh produce from their half-acre property. In 2022, the farm harvested over 11,000 pounds of produce.
An additional item will help fund business recovery and retention to the tune of $284,456, roughly split between improvements, infrastructure and related costs to support the Mayor’s Business Recovery Plan — including efforts like outdoor dining and the Winter Village — and support for small businesses affected by the pandemic.
ARPA aims to help small business recovery, retention
As for the changes in ARPA funds, Ziller noted several sources were reallocated from other areas in order make room in the $20,665,806 ARPA budget for business retention and assistance, grants, loans, technical assistance and marketing.
“We realized, as we've kind of started to come out of the pandemic, businesses are still struggling,” Ziller said. “They're certainly struggling with the inflationary impacts, so to be able to kind of use this rescue plan funding to support them was critical for the administration and for our Department of Community and Economic Development.”
Ziller added that since the ARPA budget had last been approved in May 2022, more defined costs for initiatives had come in, allowing for better estimations of projects, allowing the Department of Community and Economic Development to present “something more specific,” allowing the council to understand exactly how the money was being used.
The portion of the ARPA funding directed toward business assistance will come from grants and loans, Ziller said.
The Business Retention Assistance of the City of Easton, or BRACE, Program, allows for businesses to obtain up to $5,000 in grants, depending upon the number of employees, provided the business has been operating for at least 12 months and verification that the grants are necessary to continue operating in the city.
The loans program, which will be led by the Greater Easton Development Partnership with assistance from the Department of Community and Economic Development, can go up to $10,000. Businesses applying for loans must verify the funds are necessary to continue operating in the city. While they do have a 0% interest rate, the proposal does allow for a default rate of interest if necessary. Payments are deferred for the first six months, after which the loan must be repaid over 12 months.
Applications for the grant program will be accepted from June 1 through July 15, and for the loan program from June 1 until funding runs out.
“We're still finalizing that as we speak, but really, this was the approval we needed to kind of really get that effort off the ground,” Ziller said.
O’Connell thanked Ziller, finance director Mark Lysynecky, and their colleagues for laying out the details of the amendments during a committee meeting, and said he feels happy with the results.
“Everybody was brought up to speed on what was going on, what we were doing, and we were all very satisfied with the Community and Economic Development department and our finance director. They all did a lot of hard work setting this straight, so I'm very happy with the result,” O’Connell said.