Council hears plea for money

STRASBURG – Mayfest supporters pleaded with Town Council again Monday to give money for the event to the Chamber of Commerce.

A petition garnered 159 signatures in less than two weeks, Cindy Racey told members at their work session. Signers of the petition ask that council reinstate the town’s $8,000 contribution to the Strasburg Chamber of Commerce so the organization can put on Mayfest at least for next year. Many people in the audience stood in support of the request.

“Facebook did this,” Racey said. “A petition did this and, again, if you need more, we’ll get you more to show you what we feel and what we support and we do support the chamber as a whole. We support Mayfest more than anything.”

Supporters also want council to make a decision on the request as soon as possible, Racey said.

Kate Sowers also spoke in support of the request and Mayfest. Sowers, past president of Hometown Strasburg and a member of the chamber, sought clarification on what council had previously done regarding the allocation. Mayor Tim Taylor explained that the fiscal 2016 budget includes a line item identified as Mayfest and council has until October to decide how to appropriate the money. The chamber has asked that council do what it had in past years and appropriate the money to the organization to help cover the cost of holding Mayfest.

“In support of the chamber and having been a co-chair for Mayfest for several years, it takes a lot of money to put on a festival,” Sowers said, adding that the organization also puts on Oktoberfest and the town’s Christmas event. “So I have a problem with that line saying for Mayfest only.

“Our chamber is different from others in the area,” Sowers added. “Usually their towns put on those types of events. But the chamber in Strasburg has sponsored this for 30-plus years.”

Sowers echoed Racey’s request that council at least allocate the money to the chamber to give them time to plan for the next Mayfest, a process she said takes months.

Council members made no comments in response to the speakers.

Also at the meeting, Town Manager Ryan Spitzer said Strasburg made the shortlist for a community business launch grant program through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. The grant is used to provide entrepreneurs who may have a business idea or a home business to obtain the skills necessary to open one in a downtown storefront. The grant would provide for at least five classes on financial issues, business-plan development and marketing as well as the support system for continued success.

State department representatives plan to make a site visit at the end of September to see if the town is committed to the project. The town needs to set up a management team and the funding sources in place. The town has only 3-5 buildings not already leased but are ready for tenants and do not require much work.

The town will compete with about 10 jurisdictions for grant program, Spitzer said.

People Inc., a nonprofit agency that specializes in housing and business development initiatives, has offered to help the town by running the program. Robert Goldsmith, president and chief executive officer of People Inc., said the agency had success with similar projects in four other communities.

The grant program does require that the town put up a local match of $10,000. Goldsmith said People Inc. would repay the town its share should the program fail to meet expectations.

At the culmination of a series of training sessions, People Inc. would give grant awards to prospective entrepreneurs based on their business plans and participation, Goldsmith said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com