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De Pere council tables decision on COVID-19 relief fund

By Rich Palzewic
Staff Writer

DE PERE – The De Pere Common Council voted to table the agenda item of whether to match funds or give a lump sum to the De Pere Area Chamber of Commerce for its COVID-19 Business Relief Grant Fund.

The decision was made at the May 5 virtual meeting.

Currently, the council is offering matching funds up to $50,000 to the chamber, but Amber Thiel, President/CEO at the De Pere Area Chamber of Commerce, said donations are trickling in slower than expected.

“We initially set a fundraising goal of $50,000,” she said. “We’ve been fundraising for the last few weeks and have successfully raised $2,500 toward the grant program; however, we are running into issues of getting denied because businesses want to spread the wealth to other communities. They’ve been contacted already by the Green Bay chamber or by Definitely De Pere and have already donated.”

Thiel said the chamber is worried it won’t get to the $50,000 goal.

“We’d love to amend the resolution and propose funds for $50,000 – rather than a matching grant – and then the chamber will continue to fundraise from there,” she said.

The chamber’s objective is to establish a partnership fund with the City of De Pere to provide small-business relief grants to businesses within the De Pere city limits, but outside of the Main Street District, that are facing economic hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other eligibility requirements include the business must be deemed nonessential by the Safer at Home order, be able to demonstrate the negative hardship COVID-19 put onto their business, be an established business before March 9, 2020, and must have fewer than 25 FTE employees.

Tina Quigley, executive director at Definitely De Pere, also spoke to the board about the organization’s fundraising efforts.

“Every part of our economy is struggling, so it makes it hard to fundraise right now,” she said. “We’ve been most successful in our T-shirt campaign ($7,000) and private donations ($4,000). We’ve reached out to more than 50 larger corporations, and it’s been a challenge. We’ve received just shy of $20,000 in donations so far.”

Quigley said Definitely De Pere’s grant application closed April 30, and it received 54 applications, with many seeking the maximum request of $2,500. Total requests equaled $129,000.

District 3 Alder Dean Raasch spoke about the chamber’s request to change the fund proposal.

“We had decided to do matching funds, but now the chamber is saying they are worried about raising the money, and they’d like to have the grant money upfront,” he said. “I can appreciate needing to help struggling businesses with the grant program, but I think it’s backward to ask the business community to donate to help the business community when many are forcibly shut down. I think we’re barking up the wrong tree here. I’m not opposed to the matching grant situation, but I don’t think we can keep throwing money at things.”

Raasch said the best opportunity for the situation to right itself is to get businesses back open.

“Until that happens, we’re simply going to keep throwing money at things,” he said. “If we give the chamber $50,000 upfront, Definitely De Pere could come back and argue the same thing.”

Mayor James Boyd presented the option to table the discussion until another meeting – which Raasch motioned for – and have the two organizations collectively work together.

In other news, the board accepted a $10,000 donation from the Dickhut Family Charitable Endowment Fund for the community center remodeling project.

The grant received is to purchase tables and other furniture and/or equipment to aid in finalizing the project.

The total cost for the flooring project was $22,981, which was offset from $22,010 in donations.

The total cost of the project, including flooring and tables/furniture, etc. is $32,981.

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