City allocates money for Buy Local Certificate Program

By Andrea Cordle
Grove City Editor

Grove City Council has signed off on the Buy Local Certificate Program, a matching gift card initiative aimed at helping local small businesses.

At a meeting in late September, council voted to appropriate $75,000 from the city’s general fund for the certificate program. This ordinance passed with a 3-2 vote. On Oct. 5, council approved the program outline, which includes a budget for marketing and operating the program.

The program will be managed by the Grove City Area Chamber of Commerce.

“I’m excited to see what this can do,” said Shawn Conrad, executive director of the chamber. “This helps us fulfill our mission to help local businesses.”

According to councilman Ted Berry, this program could benefit all small businesses in Grove City.

“Business has suffered greatly from COVID-19,” said Berry. “This (program) allows our chamber to solicit for local businesses. It can spur external audiences.”

Per the legislation, the city will set aside $50,000 so the chamber can implement the program. The extra $25,000 would be used to market the certificate program.

According to the program outline given to city leaders by Conrad, for each gift certificate purchased, the customer will receive a certificate for the same value at no cost. The customer would select the merchant and the amount. Customers may purchase gift certificates through the chamber website or by calling or stopping in the chamber office.

Officials expect that most of the denominations would be for smaller amounts, like $10 or $20. Because this program has the goal of helping the small business, merchants would not give money back. For example, if a customer uses his/her $20 gift card for a purchase that totals $18, that customer would not get the $2 cash back.

For a business to participate in the program, it must be operating within the geographic boundaries of Grove City. The business must also be a member in good standing with the Grove City Area Chamber of Commerce.

Berry called this program a trial run.

“If it works, we can renew it,” he said.

Council president Christine Houk and councilman Aaron Schlabach voted against the ordinance to fund the Buy Local Certificate Program.

Houk called it murky.

“The concept puts city government in the gift card business,” she said. “I don’t believe the city belongs in that business.”

Houk said it would make more sense to give the chamber a grant to administer the program.

During the Oct. 5 meeting, where council signed off on the outline and budget of the Buy Local Certificate Program, council discussed using the city’s federal Coronavirus Aid, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money to fund the matching gift certificate program.

Councilman Roby Schottke said he would rather use the CARES Act funds than general fund dollars.

Grove City Law Director Stephen Smith said that although the funds are to assist local businesses with the loss of revenue from the novel coronavirus pandemic, the city would not be able to prove to the state auditor that the funds were for COVID-19 related expenses.

“Some COVID funds are clear cut, others are not,” said Smith. “We need to take a more conservative approach.”

Mike Turner, the city’s finance director said the CARES Act funds must be used by Dec. 30 and the expenditures from this program could extend beyond that date.

Council did approve a resolution to give the Grove City Area Chamber of Commerce $11,000 of local coronavirus relief funds.

According to Conrad, promotion of the matching gift certificate program to current and potential members went out in mid-October. Promotion to the community and opening sales for the gift certificates will begin in early November. If there are not enough participating merchants to open the program to the community at that time, the program would be delayed and re-evaluated weekly.

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