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2nd round of local business relief in the works

The city of Albert Lea, Freeborn County and the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency are in discussions about another round of relief for businesses adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Albert Lea City Council on Monday authorized city staff to work with staff from the county and ALEDA on a program to help local businesses in need of aid, particularly those affected by Gov. Tim Walz’s new order that went in place at the end of last week, requiring restaurants and bars to close for indoor dining for 30 days, along with fitness centers, amid sharply rising COVID-19 numbers.

City Manager Ian Rigg said many businesses in the community cannot afford anymore loans to assist them, and the program would be set up for grants, similar to the first round of relief earlier this year, which gave out over $800,000 between the three entities.

Rigg said he met with representatives from the county, ALEDA and United Way on Friday to discuss the impact that the recent closings will have on local businesses, many of which are still recovering from shutdowns earlier in the year.

“I think this is real critical we get this passed,” said 1st Ward Councilor Rich Murray during the council’s workshop before the meeting. “We have a number of small businesses in this community that are hurting.”

Rigg said the program would be administered through ALEDA as was done with the first round of relief funds. 

The city’s portion of the second relief fund will come from reserves in an economic development account. He noted the city expects to have some excess cash reserves at the end of 2020 due to the application of CARES Act funding to its operation. It is likely the city will replenish that reserve account with a portion of the excess reserves in early 2021.

ALEDA Executive Director Phillip Johnson said the goal for this round is to disburse $500,000, though if they can have more that would be even better. How much each entity will contribute has not been finalized. The matter will be discussed with both the ALEDA board and the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners in upcoming meetings.