Montrose City Council discusses potential to fund local restaurant vouchers

Customers share a laugh with their waitress at Horsefly Brewing Company Friday afternoon. Customers are required to wear masks while walking through the restaurant and staff wear masks while serving customers.

Montrose City Council discussed during Monday’s work session the potential of supporting the Montrose Community Foundation’s (MCF) restaurant voucher program using city monies from the small business relief fund.

The MCF’s program currently gives restaurant vouchers to people working certain jobs — namely frontline workers. The city would contribute funding to expand that program to include people with food insecurity due to limited income.

Council member Roy Anderson emphasized the importance of expanding upon the MCF’s existing program rather than establishing another one.

“The community foundation already has mechanisms in place, they know how to reach the right people,” Anderson said. “I think if we augment their program with an emphasis on the needy who are hungry and having difficulty… I think the Community Foundation is well-qualified to identify them and disburse the funds, and it takes that job away from the city staff who are already very busy.”

Mayor Barbara Bynum then asked for clarification on the specific purpose of the restaurant vouchers, as 50 dollars could buy a few days’ worth of groceries compared to one dinner.

Council member Dave Frank, who is also on the board for the Montrose Community Foundation, said that the program was intended to support both the community and local restaurants, and Bynum agreed that the grocery stores in Montrose had done relatively well during the pandemic, while many restaurants had been forced to close entirely.

Council member Bowman then introduced the idea of a third aspect of the restaurant option: the ability to go out to eat now that many restaurants are open to limited dine-in.

“I like the idea of an option, but I would advocate for using the restaurants,” Bowman said. “There's a mental health factor here, too, in my option. I’m really sick of my cooking. ...The opportunity to just get out of the house is important in this time.”

Earlier in the pandemic, $300,000 was set aside for a small business relief fund, made up of the existing Greater Montrose Opportunity Loan Fund, Downtown Opportunity Loan Fund and remaining DDA Operational Account monies. The funds for the restaurant voucher program would most likely come out of that account.

“I think we have committed just over $100,000 [so far from the small business relief fund], and so we have a significant amount of money left in that pot,” said City Manager Bill Bell. “If we’re going to do something like this, I would recommend we utilize that money rather than pulling it in addition to that out of the general fund.”

A question from the community asked why the city was focusing on help for local restaurants rather than a program that would support all small businesses. Frank emphasized that the discussion was specific to the MCF’s current voucher program, which focuses on restaurants.

Bell agreed that the program was not all-encompassing, but rather an addition to other programs that are currently in place — such as sales tax deferrals, co-op marketing opportunities, small businesses loans and reopening guidance.

“I think a lot has been done for the small businesses; this is just in addition to that,” Bell said. “It just happened to be that with this particular idea, it can hit three different venues in one project. ...We’ve done a lot, and I’m really proud of the efforts everybody’s put in.”

Bynum agreed that the program is one of what the city hopes will be many to support the local economy.

“We need to be careful not to get trapped and being paralyzed into doing nothing because we're afraid that it’ll be criticized because we didn’t include something else,” Bynum said. “We continue to entertain new ideas, we continue to look at ways to support the people in our community and the businesses in our community. We should continue moving forward with all the good ideas that are available to us.”

After more information has been gathered from potential partners and details are solidified, city council will vote on their support of the program and how much to allocate to it at a future council meeting.

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