Montgomery County's Department of Economic Development plans to get a headstart on the new Small Business Assistance Program to help local merchants prepare for massive construction on Lot 13 in the heart of Wheaton.
Although the program applies to all businesses in the county that are adversely impacted by county redevelopment projects or redevelopment projects on county property, Wheaton businesses will likely be the primary beneficiaries as plans for redevelopment in the downtown area move forward.
The County Council passed legislation establishing the program last spring, and the economic development department has been in the process of crafting regulations to implement it. The regulations have been posted on the Executive Register for public comment.
In the next few months, the Department of Economic Development will be reaching out to businesses in Wheaton for financial assessments even though the program is not yet active. The goal? To help them get their books in order so that when the program kicks into gear, these businesses will be poised to participate and receive assistance.
The legislation gives the department’s director, Steve Silverman, the power to give financial assistance beginning one year in advance of when construction starts.
What distinguishes this program from the assistance given during the Silver Spring redevelopment process is that it will evaluate need on a business-by-business basis, not in block zones. Instead of an across-the-board formula, the county will be working with businesses directly, Silverman said.
Silverman said he is not confident that the upcoming county budget proposal will include money for the small business assistance fund. This should not be seen as a sign of lack of commitment from County Executive Isiah Leggett, Silverman said. The possibility remains for a supplemental appropriation to the fund, he said.
However, Council President Nancy Navarro’s chief of staff, Adam Fogel, said that if Wheaton redevelopment stays on the present timeline, then Navarro will advocate for funding to go into the fiscal year 2014 budget rather than rely on supplemental appropriations.
Fogel noted that construction could possibly begin by the end of the next fiscal year, which would be summer 2014.
“We don’t want to get caught in a situation where we’re a year out and there’s no money,” he said. “Better to budget money and then not use it.”
The intial comment period on the regulations ends Jan. 31, but comments may also be submitted to the County Council for when the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee reviews the regulations.
The committee may then send the regulations back to the Department of Economic Development for changes, in which case the revised regulations would be published to the Executive Register for additional public comment.