Forsyth County earmarked $500,000 for COVID-19 testing on Thursday as the board of commissioners approved ways to divide part of a $6.5 million pot of state coronavirus relief money.
The biggest spending questions remain to be resolved as early as next week, when the county board will decide whether or not to share between $1 million and $2.2 million from the COVID-19 relief money with Winston-Salem and other municipalities in the county.
As discussion advanced on Thursday, commissioners came to rather quick agreement on spending $500,000 for testing, $150,000 for sanitation stations, $200,000 for enhanced outreach efforts, and $300,000 for personal protection equipment for businesses.
The board split on another $100,000 for small business grants, after Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt objected.
Whisenhunt said she didn’t think it was proper for the government to be handing out money to businesses, or to be deciding which businesses got a grant. Also, she said, $100,000 couldn’t possibly help all the small businesses that need help.
The small business grants would be administered by Greater Winston-Salem Inc., which has a small business grant program that puts a priority on helping minority- and woman-owned businesses as well as businesses in downtown Winston-Salem that were also affected by the Business 40 closure.
The grants program is not limited to those kinds of businesses, but Whisenhunt argued that it is “not fair to all the small businesses to help a certain few and not the others.”
The board of commissioners approved the business spending on a 5-2 vote, with commissioners Fleming El-Amin, Ted Kaplan, Don Martin, Tonya McDaniel and Dave Plyler voting in favor, and Whisenhunt and Commissioner Richard Linville voting against.
Commissioner El-Amin said he had looked at how major businesses had gotten a lot of COVID-19 relief money, but that small businesses had not been able to benefit.
“They need what we can do with the small grants,” El-Amin said. “People who have applied for those are elated that they are able to get some help. I have confidence that Greater Winston-Salem will be able to manage it successfully.”
Next week should see a decision on the remaining $5.2 million of COVID-19 relief money. The county is weighing several plans: Some plans call for the county to keep the entire amount and use it to pay salary costs of employees such as public safety workers whose jobs responding to the COVID-19 emergency.
Other plans call for splitting the money between the county and the various municipalities in the county limits.
Under various plans, Winston-Salem could get from $775,000 to $1.7 million, with smaller amounts for the smaller municipalities.
Under all the plans, the county would keep the larger share of the money, from $3 million to $5.2 million.