QUINCY -- Hoping to rescue businesses hit by the coronavirus pandemic from financial ruin, Quincy City Council members approved spending up to $100,000 on a consumer spending program that will reward shoppers with a credit on an upcoming utility bill.
The initiative, known as the Helping Establishments Re-Open or HERO program, was approved in a 13-0 vote. Aldermen Mike Farha, R-4, was absent from the meeting.
"I think it is a great thing for the businesses of Quincy and the residents of Quincy. I hope this works. We are here trying to do something different to try and help the community, the citizens of Quincy," said Alderman Jason Finney, R-2, who alongside Alderman Katie Awerkamp, D-6, sponsored the ordinance and advocated for its passage. The HERO program is inspired by a similar program in Macomb.
"It is just exciting to see that there is money being put back in our community. It has been a rough couple of months for our small businesses especially," said Awerkamp, who added that the HERO program has generated a lot of buzz among business owners who are excited about what it could mean for their businesses.
The City Council agreed to waive the three readings of the ordinance, which clears the way for the ordinance to take effect immediately.
Under the program's guidelines, through Aug. 31, residents who spend up to $150 pretax at a variety of area retailers and businesses will receive a $25 credit on an future water bill. The one-time water credits are limited to 4,000 households in Quincy.
City Treasurer Linda Moore said her office, which is responsible for collecting the receipts submitted by participating residents, and Director of Planning and Development Chuck Bevelheimer are nearly 90% through compiling a list of businesses within the city limits that are eligible to participate in the program.
"We are still reviewing the list. We are going through business by business who was essential and nonessential, who was open and who was not open," Moore said.
There are an estimated 1,500 businesses operating in the city.
A list of eligible businesses, or businesses who were financially hurt by the pandemic and not allowed to be open or were operating under restrictions, will be published by the city in coming days. That list and a credit request form will be published on the city's website.
The list is expected to include retail stores, boutiques, salons, studios, clothing stores and other nonessential businesses, including restaurants, within the city limits that were forced to close. To-go food orders from restaurants and curbside pick-up purchases from retailers will count towards the credit.
Finney and Awerkamp said last week that purchases made at grocery stores, gas stations, home improvement stores, garden centers, liquor stores, cannabis dispensaries, video gaming parlors and pharmacies will not count toward the credit.
Funding for the water credits comes from unused funds within the city's $500,000 COVID-19 relief program, Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore said. Of the $500,000, more than $220,000 has been used to make micro-loans to small businesses, and $100,000 will fund the water bill credits.
The $500,000 originates from a decades-old federally created economic development initiative in Quincy. No local tax dollars paid to Quincy's municipal government will be used to finance the water credits and the city's water enterprise fund will not lose money because of this program, Director of Utilities Jeffrey Conte said.
Receipts and the credit request form must be submitted to Quincy City Treasurer Linda Moore by Sept. 30. Receipts can be from multiple purchases at the same store or from a single purchase at one store. In addition to purchasing goods from retailers or services from salons, the purchase of gift cards also will be counted toward the $150 requirement, according to a memo from Bevelheimer.
"This is just a no brainer for residents who have been hit so hard to get a rebate on their water bill," Alderman Benjamin Uzelac, D-7, said.
In other business, Mayor Moore said the members of the City Council will discuss at next week's with an ordinance outlining guidelines for public gatherings and special event during the pandemic.