BUCKEYE LAKE – If not Buckeye Lake, then whom? It’s hard to believe there could be Ohio lakeside businesses more in need of grants and no interest loans than those surrounding Buckeye Lake, yet few organizations qualified for Ohio Lakes in Economic Distress program grants and loans; only three local organizations were awarded a grant and none were awarded a loan.
However, recently appointed Buckeye Lake Development Recovery Coordinator Cheryl Krouse told Buckeye Lake Village Council members Monday night there should be another opportunity for local businesses to apply for grants and loans through the program.
Krouse told council members that shortly after she was appointed to her position the state declared Buckeye Lake as a “lake in economic distress” as the state’s replacement of the Buckeye Lake dam has strongly restricted tourism. Krouse said small businesses around the lake may each apply for a grant of up to $10,000 or a no-interest loan of up to $20,000.
Krouse said eligibility for the program is based upon decline in revenue between 2014 and 2015 as a result of the lake’s low water level during dam construction; eligible businesses must have experienced at least a 40 percent decline in revenue during that period to qualify.
“That’s a pretty high threshold to meet,” Krouse said. She said she visited 44 lake area businesses to tell them about the lake in economic distress program. Many applied, but only three were awarded grants-the Buckeye Lake Historical Society, the now defunct North Pole restaurant, and ROBBCO, located on US 40 near Hebron; however, Krouse said there will be an additional $250,000 available to businesses in 2017. She said the state may consider lowering the 40 percent decline threshold next year so more businesses may participate.
Krouse said most businesses were not interested in a loan, which surprised her. She said the loans have no interest, no payments for the first year, and may be paid back over seven years. “That’s a pretty good deal,” she said. Krouse said money from the grants and loans may be used for anything, including operating capital.
“A lot of (businesses) are hanging on by their fingernails and may not survive until 2017 if conditions do not improve,” said council member Tim Ryan, who is also president of the Buckeye Lake Region Chamber of Commerce. He said so far three village businesses have shut down-although one has reopened since the state announced the lake would remain at low pool last year. Ryan said the ODNR’s public announcement last month that the spillway would be closed and the water level allowed to rise painted a rosier picture than what local businesses are experiencing.
“We all think it was a very nice press conference, but the reality of that press conference is likely not as optimistic or as truthful as what we see coming down the road,” Ryan said.
Council President Kitty Zwissler said the 40 percent clause has been a real problem for local businesses. She suggested lowering it to 28 percent, and then continue to lower it until all available funding has been distributed to local businesses. “It doesn’t make sense that we have money sitting there when there are businesses going out of business as I talk to you,” Zwissler said.
“We need to get the word out,” Ryan said, that local businesses have Krouse’s support. Krouse, a retired banker, said she volunteered for the SCORE program, or the Service Corps of Retired Executives, when the Small Business Administration approached her organization saying it needed help with a “tragedy in the community at Buckeye Lake.” Being a Buckeye Lake resident, Krouse told the SBA she could help. The SBA agreed and made her a permanent assistant to the community until September. In the meantime, Krouse wants all Buckeye Lake Area businesses to know she’s available to help them survive another lean summer of business.
In a related issue, Olde Canal Restaurant owner Faye Whitaker said 16 businesses applied for a grant and only three were awarded grants. “So, in reality, no local businesses have benefited from the grants,” she said. “I was told by the Ohio Department of Development that the remaining $220,000 will go into state general fund, and $150,000 of that was federal money given to the state to help local businesses. It appears the liaison was paid $50,000, which is more than the total amount awarded in grants. Local businesses are still struggling. If they gave all 16 something, it would be better than nothing.”
“If a company did not receive funding, it was because it did not meet the eligibility requirements stated in the Program Guidelines,” said Ohio Development Services Agency Public Information Officer Stephanie Gostomski in an email. She said in order for a business to receive funding, “It must have experienced at least a 40 percent reduction in gross revenue based on the two most recent calendar year-end financials, as certified by an authorized representative of the applicant.
“The threshold of 40 percent was based upon the Small Business Administration’s threshold when declaring a disaster area in relation to a significant economic injury. The Small Business Administration defines significant injury to a small business as a 40 percent or more drop in sales over a designated period,” Gostomski said.
In other council news:
• Council member and community development committee chair Doug Poorman said the TJ Evans Foundation, which owns the Buckeye Lake LEADS building and a building next to it, would like to donate both buildings to the village and wonders if the village is interested.
“We can accept it, but what do we do with it and what can we afford to do with it,” Poorman said. He said he needs to gather community members together to decide what could be done with the buildings. For example, they could be a branch of the Licking County YMCA, a center for local elderly residents, or a community center for youth and the elderly. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity for the village,” Poorman said.
Council member Peggy Wells asked how long Poorman was aware of the potential offer. He said roughly one month. Wells said she’s on the community development committee and wasn’t aware of the offer. “I don’t understand why council isn’t informed until months or weeks pass,” she said. “It’s ridiculous; I’m sorry!”
Wells addressed herself to Mayor Clay Carroll. “You want to be the administrator of this village,” she said, adding that from her perspective Carroll wants to be a strong mayor with strong influence, yet he won’t inform the council of new developments, such as possibly accepting a donation of two buildings.
Zwissler said the potential donation was only brought up in one meeting.
Council member Robert Masone said he wasn’t aware, either.
“We can’t move forward if we don’t communicate,” Wells said. She said it didn’t make sense to “sit on” news of something this major for a month.
• Wells said local juveniles were not responsible for recent vandalism at the skate park. In fact, the vandal was John Spellman, a 31-year-old man from Thornville who vandalized several village locations, including the skate park.
“There have been some folks criticizing the children for the graffiti at the skate park,” Wells said. “What we have here is a 31-year-old man on drugs.”
• Carroll said crack sealing of village streets should begin July 1, and this Saturday, June 18, is the annual Buckeye Lake Lakefest. He said construction of two new crosswalks in the village may begin later this summer. Carroll recruited council members’ help to look into roof repairs for the Village Hall and repairs to the police department’s air conditioning unit.