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Orange County supervisors will evenly split $75 million in federal stimulus aid and decide how to distribute it to small businesses in their district, under a plan they approved Tuesday.


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Neither the approved plan, nor an alternative plan where cities would distribute the money, described the criteria that would be used for businesses to get financial support. 

CEO Frank Kim did note the stimulus expenses ultimately would be audited by the federal government. In cases where a supervisor decides to send the money to cities to distribute to small businesses, there was talk of having cities agree to indemnify the county government if any expenses are disallowed.

Under the plan supervisors ultimately approved, each supervisor will develop their own criteria for which businesses would receive the $15 million for each of the five districts.

“The five of us up here, we have I think five different thoughts on how best to help our communities,” said county Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who voted for the plan.

“I think this lets us all do what we believe is best for our districts. And if you would simply like to allocate your share for your district to the cities within your district, I think that would be your prerogative,” said county Supervisor Doug Chaffee.

Supervisors approved the splitting plan on a 3-2 vote. The no votes were by supervisors Don Wagner and Michelle Steel, who wanted the money to instead go to every city in Orange County to distribute to small businesses.

“We can do this much more efficiently by giving it to the mayors,” Wagner said, adding he would still distribute the money to the cities in his district to then distribute to businesses.

The $75 million for small businesses money comes from the $554 million the county received from the federal CARES Act stimulus money.

Wagner took issue with the approved plan to hire an administrator – the Orange County Small Business Development Center to administer the funds – to implement each supervisors’ criteria for how to distribute the money to small businesses in their district.

“The hiring of an administrator…is frankly the problem that I think that some of us have with this. That’s what’s going to take us until June 29 to get the money distributed, if we go through all of these procedures,” Wagner said.

Wagner, a former mayor of Irvine, said he would soon be holding a conference call with mayors in his district and wants to get the money to their cities by the end of this week.

During public comments before the vote, more than a dozen local mayors called on the board to have the cities distribute the money to businesses.

“Pretty much every business in Mission Viejo is a small business,” said Mayor Brian Goodell of Mission Viejo.

“They need help. Particularly our restaurants, particularly our public services. They need help, and we need it as quickly as possible. So I request, again, that you act quickly to get the money into our hands so we can distribute it to those who need it most.”

“A couple of the mayors said it…that sentiment was absolutely spot on. ‘Trust the locals,’ ” Wagner said.

“[The stimulus money] exists to get into the hands of the people that have been crushed by the shutdown. And the sooner we do that, the better off they are and the better we’ve discharged our duties,” he added.

Apart from the $75 million for small businesses, supervisors voted last week to allocate $26 million in CARES Act money to cities for their coronavirus-related costs, and the remaining funds for county departments’ response to the pandemic.

Supervisor Doug Chaffee said he wants to get the money to his district on a similar timeframe to Wagner’s plans to get money to cities by the end of this week.

“If money can get out to cities by Friday, hopefully we can get my district somewhat the same satisfaction,” Chaffee said.

“I’m looking forward to creating the program, working with the cities. They need to know that money will be coming out shortly to their small businesses. We want to get the application forms, as well as the program to publicize the programs, such as seminar-webinars, so that small businesses know how to apply and get their money quickly,” Chaffee added.

He vowed to step away from the program as soon as he sets up the criteria for how businesses would get chosen.

“I will step out of that as soon as we get that small business organized, so I’m not influencing where the money goes.”

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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