‘Tip of the iceberg’: East Grand Forks OKs $421,000 worth of COVID business relief

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East Grand Forks City Hall

East Grand Forks leaders voted Tuesday, Nov. 10, to hand out $421,000 to area businesses that have been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic -- a figure that’s at best a quarter of the estimated need.

Council members voted 5-0 to approve a second round of relief for 36 businesses in the city. That money aims to reimburse those firms for the cost of additional protective equipment for employees and other early-pandemic expenses, offset a third of the revenue they’ve lost as the economy struggles, or both. The cash comes from the titanic Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, but it’s considerably less than the $2 million Eastside businesses formally requested.

“We just hit the tip of the iceberg,” said Paul Gorte, East Grand Forks’ economic development director, adding that those $2 million worth of requests came from about 20% of the city’s businesses.

Gorte and other city administrators aren’t sure when -- or if -- another chunk of federal relief will arrive.

“I’m hopeful that we get some more dollars to help our businesses. Very hopeful,” Gorte told the Herald. “And also hopeful that there are dollars to help people because people are hurting. We need that, but that’s not my call.”


Council members Tim Riopelle and Dale Helms abstained from Tuesday’s vote. Both own a business that received some of that cash: Riopelle owns Border States Trophy & Awards, which received $3,375.30 to alleviate some of the trophy shop’s lost revenue, and Helms owns Triangle Coach Service, a busing company that received $50,000 for the same.

City Council member Marc DeMers, an employee at RJ Zavoral & Sons, did not abstain from the vote. That company received $6,949.62 worth of reimbursements for COVID protection and related expenses.

Mayor Steve Gander is a doctor and co-owner at Opticare Vision Clinic, which received $6,504.94 in this round of CARES funding. East Grand Forks’ mayor does not have a vote on the council.

The money council members OK'd on Tuesday is the second batch of CARES Act money the city has doled out. In October, the city handed out nearly $85,000 to 29 businesses , each of which sought to be reimbursed for the money they’d spent on masks, gloves, barriers, computers for off-site work and other pieces of equipment designed to slow the virus’ spread. Each applicant’s payment was capped at $5,000, but several asked for reimbursements that were considerably higher than that.

Those “overages” were eligible for the second round of funding, which is why some businesses were paid more than they’re recorded as asking for in the newly approved second round. Gander’s eye clinic, for instance, asked for $1,389.50 in the second round but received about $6,500 -- it’s first-round request was about $5,100 over the cap.

City staff and officials also agreed to give out $11,445.79 in the second funding round to McDonald Dental, which, mid-pandemic, is moving across the Red River to Grand Forks.

Gander said McDonald is still receiving city relief money because the business still bore the financial brunt of the pandemic to this point in East Grand Forks. But a working group on which he serves decided that the business, which asked for equipment and revenue reimbursements, would only be paid for equipment. That’s since become at least an informal city policy.

“This business isn’t going to receive funds from Grand Forks for the covered period while they were in East Grand Forks,” Gander said.


All told, the city has given out about $505,000 worth of CARES money to Eastside businesses.

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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