Little Elm businesses

Little Elm will focus some of its CARES Act funding on local businesses.

The town of Little Elm is expected to receive $2.8 million in CARES Act funding from Denton County to help with expenses incurred because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Denton County, which received federal money, issued money to its municipalities at $55 per capita.

 “It’s a pretty big influx of money that will help us deal with the cost we’ve in the next couple of months and through the end of the year to deal with COVID,” Town Manager Matt Mueller said.

Mueller said a big portion of the $2.8 million – approximately $1.8 million – will go toward overtime salaries for public safety employees, a category that local government leaders were recently told they could use the funding for. Hazardous pay at $100 per month for field employees who were unable to social distance or be isolated during the pandemic is included in that.

Councilman Nick Musteen said he would like to see more money go toward the hazardous pay.

“The fact that we’re giving just a 62-cents-per-hour increase bugs me,” Musteen said.

Mayor David Hillock said the town can add more later outside of the CARES Act funding.

The town also set aside $600,000 of CARES Act funding for business programs. The town expects to send at least $400,000 of that to the county so it can administer business grants for Little Elm businesses.

Councilman Neil Blais said a county-administered grant program would go a long way in keeping some businesses open a few more months.

“I know there are still businesses that are hurting,” Blais said. “And frankly what I want to avoid is a bunch of empty shops. It will have a much longer impact on our finances.”

An additional $100,000 will be used in conjunction with the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) for a local business assistance program, potentially a second round of the voucher program to encourage sales at Little Elm businesses.

Another $100,000 will go to reimburse the EDC for its first voucher program.

“The voucher program proved to be more successful than we had originally anticipated,” said Jennette Espinosa, executive director of the EDC. “We were thrilled with the return rate of about 20 percent, which is higher than the average return rate on direct mail participation.”

Espinosa said the total reimbursement to date is approximately $73,000 back to participating businesses and that the program helped more than 30 local businesses.

The EDC sent out $25 vouchers to residents encouraging them to support Little Elm businesses. The businesses then accepted a voucher for a purchase that was a minimum of $25, giving the customer the $25 discount. In turn, the businesses turned in the receipts and the vouchers to the EDC. The EDC then reimbursed those businesses for each voucher and receipt that qualified.

Little Elm also set aside $100,000 to be pushed back to the county to be used for social agencies that would benefit Little Elm residents. Options include rent or utility assistance.

Mueller said there will be other items budgeted to deal with COVID-19 expenses as well since the $2.8 million won’t cover all of the expenses.

Among the other expenses the funding will go toward include UV lights in the ambulances for sanitation; mobile radios, public safety areas and a filtration system.

“One of the things they’ve found is that COVID-19 is an airborne disease, so this will help stop that,” Mueller said.

Safety kiosks are also being purchased so people can be screened before entering a town building.

Mueller said all of the town’s funding must be spent by Dec. 31.

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