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York County doles out $4.6M to tourism, nonprofit orgs reeling from COVID-19

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

The York County Board of Commissioners approved $4.63 million in federal COVID-19 funding Wednesday for 35 nonprofit and tourism organizations, including the York State Fair, that are struggling to get by as a result of plunging demand or canceled events.

The money is part of the $40.5 million the county received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Eric Menzer, president of the York Revolution, is chairperson of Explore York's tourism grant committee, which awards grants to businesses and nonprofits in the local tourism industry out of a portion of the hotel room taxes collected by the county.

"When the pandemic hit and when room occupancy went almost to zero, we had to literally stop in our tracks a whole bunch of grants that we were about to reward," Menzer said, "because the funding source of those grants dried up overnight."

In addition to the stop in tourism, Menzer said, businesses have canceled employees' work trips, which also hurts the local industry.

More:York County gets small revenue boost thanks to new Airbnb tax regulations

More:York fair canceled for the first time since 1918

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler listens as John Porter, executive vice president and COO of WellSpan Health, speaks during a press conference at the commissioner's chambers Monday, March 16, 2020. Wheeler declared a state of emergency in the county due to the Coronavirus. Bill Kalina photo

When the business trips and vacation travel dry up, it hurts the restaurants and hotels economically, but by extension it also hurts the small organizations that rely on the tourism grant funding, Menzer said, because that funding is only available if people are renting out hotel rooms in York County and paying the room tax.

The $4.63 million approved for distribution Wednesday includes $2 million for the York Fairgrounds and Expo Center, $200,000 for the Appell Center for the Performing Arts, $300,000 for Rabbit Transit and $150,000 for Crispus Attucks, among several others.

In total, 35 for-profit and nonprofit organizations received funding Wednesday.

President Commissioner Julie Wheeler said the organizations were chosen based on the recommendations of the YoCo Strong Recovery Task Force, which the county board created in April to help guide its response to COVID-19.

At last week's meeting, commissioners allocated $14 million to a grant program for small businesses and nonprofits, which will be administered by the York County Economic Alliance.

This leaves about $22 million yet to be allocated. The county must distribute the funds before the end of 2020 or forfeit them, according to federal guidelines.

More:York County nears 100 deaths linked to COVID-19, 43 new cases

More:York County OKs allotment plan for $14 million in CARES Act cash