The Sammamish City Council approved a business recovery grant program to assist impacted small businesses in Sammamish at a meeting on Tuesday, July 14.
The approved motion comes after weeks of debate among council members about how best to format grant applications and direct funding to the program.
Council members established a subcommittee to develop guidelines for the program in late June, but lacked consensus until a July 7 meeting, when they approved a first draft of the grant application.
The COVID-19 pandemic began impacting Sammamish business owners in early March, when public concern over exposure, followed by a subsequent statewide stay-at-home order issued later that month, drastically reduced the number of customers at brick and mortar locations.
Nearby cities started launching business relief programs. This included Kirkland’s $250,000 small business relief fund that opened for applications in the first week of April. The City of Issaquah unveiled a much larger $500,000 grant program on July 11.
But other agenda priorities and a relatively low financial impact from COVID-19 delayed the response in Sammamish, said Councilmember Pam Stuart in an interview prior to the July 14 council meeting.
“It’s July and we haven’t helped anybody yet,” Stuart said. “I think there’s an urgency in the community but there’s not that same sense of urgency on the Council. And I’m hoping that that will start to change.”
Council members initially disagreed on what information the City should ask small business owners to provide on the application and spent most of the July 7 meeting debating the specific questions that should go on the application form.
The two-and-a-half-hour meeting included several separate amendments to the original motion for the program’s approval, a process which Councilmember Chris Ross at one point said appeared contradictory.
“I’m very concerned that we’re complicating it,” Ross said in reference to questions about grant eligibility. “I think maybe the action we should [pursue] is to make sure our form has very easy to answer questions and they’re all criterias.”
Deputy Mayor Christie Malchow proposed an amendment to remove questions about gross impact from the form at the start of the Council’s discussion on the item.
Malchow said that the figure would not adequately help the City verify business funding. The question itself could possibly deter business owners from applying, she said.
“I feel like our form isn’t quite comprehensive enough to understand what we would give someone as far as a grant,” Malchow said.
Mayor Karen Moran said she agreed with Malchow, citing the importance of information privacy in the application process.
Councilmember Ken Gamblin offered an amendment to lower the minimum grant amount to $1,000, which the Council approved.
Councilmembers Stuart and Jason Ritchie also advocated throughout the meeting for the City to supplement the original King County funds with additional City funds.
Council members ultimately approved a total of $250,370 for the program, which includes $152,000 coming from reimbursable funds through the federal government’s CARES Act, and the remaining $98,370 provided by King County.
The lengthy debate resulted in a very simple process for fund distribution. Individual grants will range from a minimum of $1,000 to a maximum of $10,000. Funds will be distributed to eligible businesses equally, based on number of applications, unless there are more applications than the established minimum grant level can support. If this situation occurs, a lottery will determine which grantees get the minimum $1,000 amount. Only local small businesses with 15 or fewer full-time employees may apply.
Council members then unanimously passed a newly drafted application form, with no questions about a business’ current and historic revenue, at its July 14 meeting. The Council’s decision will allow the City to move forward with advertising the application process to Sammamish businesses.
Applications through an online form will be open from August 1 to August 17. The Council will approve the distribution on September 1, according to the City’s current tentative timeline for the grant program.