MERIDEN — The City Council voted unanimously to use $1.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to expand the scope of the MeridenBIG program this week.
The original program, established through a $5 million allocation of ARPA funds, targets new businesses seeking to move into Meriden, by funding upgrades, including building code compliance and vanilla box improvements, to rehabilitate and reuse existing vacant commercial spaces — particularly those located within the city’s downtown Transit Oriented District.
The supplemental funding that the council approved Monday night allows existing city businesses to seek MeridenBIG funds, through a new program with different parameters. The new $1.5 million expansion offers existing businesses three tiers of grant opportunities, which are based on those businesses’ number of employees.
For example, small businesses that have operated in Meriden for at least two years and which have two to four employees, can seek $15,000 grants without required matching funds. Businesses with at least five, but fewer than 10, employees can apply for $25,000 grants — also without a required match. Those businesses similarly need to have operated in the city for at least two years.
Those tiers comprise a third of the expansion’s funds. The remaining $1 million will provide grants up to $100,000 to businesses with 10 or more employees. It requires those businesses provide matching funds — 25% for the inner district and 50% for the outer district. The program, like the original MeridenBIG program, will be administered by the the Meriden Economic Development Corporation, a non-profit origanization, whose leadership consists of local business, community and city leaders, tasked with growing business opportunities in the city.
During Monday night’s discussion, Council Majority Leader Sonya Jelks stressed that the new program aims to provide assistance to existing small businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and continued to operate during that time, despite having faced hardships.
Jelks said she thinks the city has done a wonderful job to date, securing ARPA funds for non-profit organizations. However, small businesses have seen “limited” assistance to date.
Several businesses submitted ARPA funding requests to the city, prior to the MeridenBIG program’s establishment.
The council, earlier in the evening, adopted a resolution directing the city’s American Rescue Plan Act Steering Committee to continue its review of applications for all projects received prior to Dec. 31, 2022 that are deemed eligible for funding to continue to be evaluated for funding on their own merits. They include applications from businesses that are potentially eligible for the new MeridenBIG funds.
Jelks made clear she would like to see more support go toward existing businesses.
“Should there be an opportunity for us to reprogram any money that doesn’t get spent, or if there is an opportunity that allows us to invest more in an existing business program, I would be willing to add additional funding there because I do think that we underspent quite a bit on existing businesses,” Jelks said.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati further sought to distinguish the proposal from the existing $5 million MeridenBIG program.
“This is separate than the $5 million that is already out there. This is an extension, $1.5 million, for existing businesses. That’s what this money is for,” Scarpati said, noting the program has “specific parameters” around those businesses having navigated through the pandemic, and now helping them grow. Nurses’ contract
In other action, the council authorized the signing of a new contract with its Public Health Nurses, Unit #8, Connecticut Healthcare Associates, National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, AFSCME, AFLCIO union. The union comprises 23 employees, including school-based nurses and part-time and per diem employees.
The three-year contract provides employees with a 2.25% general wage increase, retroactive to July 1, 2022. The contract also includes a 2.2% general wage increase for the upcoming 2024 fiscal year, and a 2.15% increase for the following fiscal 2025.