Palmyra plans on redirecting grant money to solve coronavirus issues

Borough to apply funds for disaster response, small business support.

As the spread of coronavirus through South Jersey necessitates the longer-term closures of schools and open spaces, as well as a significant portion of businesses, certain municipalities’ bottom lines will be impacted more severely.

In Palmyra, a request for $400,000 in grant funds, originally earmarked for municipal upgrades, will instead be used to provide an economic boost to disaster-relief efforts as well as support for a number of small businesses facing uncertain futures. 

According to its website, the borough had previously been awarded the grant from the New Jersey Small Cities CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) Program. 

Those funds will be redirected to improve the borough’s community center — which has been approved as an emergency shelter — for COVID-19 response efforts and to provide financial assistance to local businesses to enable job retention and avoid closure.  

“That’s the grant we received, which we applied for work we needed done down at the harbor, to build handicapped-accessible ramps down there. We asked for it, but then (the state) said we couldn’t have it because the docks are private property, and not borough property,” explained Mayor Gina Ragomo Tait. 

“So we ended up petitioning the state again, to get those funds back at the last meeting we were in the building for, which was February.”

Although Tait expressed optimism that the latest funding request would be approved, even knowing that a response will be slow due to a number of factors related to coronavirus, she is understandably frustrated at the wait. 

“We have to see what type of money’s going to be coming in. Everybody’s in the same boat that we are,” she admitted. “I don’t know at this point. It all depends on what the state can tell us what we can use it for. We have to wait to hear back from them.” 

Upgrades to the community center to make it more accessible and able to handle the potential for hospital overflow are needed in short order, but the amount of money and when it will arrive is unknown.

“Again, it’s all wrapped up in how much they’re allowing us to spend, and for what. The first thing we need is to put a new generator in there, and we wanted to, in general, make it more handicapped accessible. But we haven’t even dealt with things like painting, let alone the other, bigger repairs,” Tait continued. 

“Usually, that center is jam packed every night, between the nonprofits and other events. And that’s how it should be. I hope they allow us to do more things to it, but we can only hope.”

Small-business ventures are also hanging in the balance. And while the borough itself cannot come up with a concrete plan for its small group of affected merchants until funding is received, it has directed all owners to a special page on its website: http://boroughofpalmyra.com/shop-locally, informing them of ways to receive relief.

“We also need to find out how to fund things like food pantries, and other services for our senior citizens,” Tait continued. “We were also working on something in late January or early February in terms of helping out younger children who were dealing with food insecurities. That’s on hold, too.”

In the meantime, Tait is doing her best to field the myriad requests for information and answers from an anxious populace. 

“If you have any questions, contact the borough, or contact me. I may not answer right away, but I will get back to you,” she said. 

“Just keep thinking that this won’t let up. Don’t give up on those businesses that need our help. Social distancing is the key and I hope everybody abides.”