MILTON — Ed Spears, the executive director of Main Street Milton, says he has gone to great lengths to explain its Business Improvement Program.
Spears says he has used social media, public forums and even offered face-to-face meetings to explain the program that, according to documents on the MSM website, "provides commercial property owners and business owners facade, sign, infrastructure and business start-up/expansion grants and loans."
MSM is accepting applications for the second round of grants and loans. The deadline for applications is 4 p.m. Friday, April 26.
Spears said he wishes to clear up any questions, concerns — and even rumors — about the BIP process.
"The questions are valid, and anyone from mayor to council member to concerned citizen has the absolute right to ask them and demand accountability of any and all government programs," Spears said in a prepared statement.
Spears said that while he was happy to provide answers in a fact sheet, he has offered several times to meet with individuals who have spoken out about their concerns.
"Offers to meet with absolutely anyone have been constantly been extended and ignored," he said. "I even held open public meetings at City Hall and no one showed up."
Regardless, Spears said he wants to make MSM the flagship nonprofit partner for the city.
"We've seen the power of these facade grants to beautify our community and help small business grow," he said. "Our success has spurred Santa Rosa County to develop their own sign and facade program. We look forward to continuing the partnership with the private sector to revitalize Milton."
Spears said if anyone still has questions to contact him at 850-564-1647. To read the BIP fact sheet or for more information visit the MSM website at www.mainstreetmilton.org.
Is it true that MSM board members have received the majority of the grants?
No. Only two of eight applicants in the first cycle of applications were associated with a board member. For the second cycle, three of the eight were associated with a board member. The applicant and legally responsible party for all grants awarded except one are non-board members or their companies.
There have been allegations about an ethics violation involving an MSM board member receiving a grant. Is this true?
No. The board member refrained from discussion on the grants associated with the properties they owned and did not vote on them. The city attorney was charged with reviewing these questions and issued an opinion that the MSM conflict of interest policy is more stringent than required by law and it was followed for the grant awards.
Is it true that the owner of Scoops Shop received a grant and she is on the board of MSM?
Amber Leek, the owner of Scoops, has never applied for a BIP. The building is solely owned by Milton Revival LLC which applied for the grant. The grant was awarded on December of 2018 before Ms. Leek was voted onto the board on January of 2019.
Does MSM utilize a "first-come, first-serve" approach to funding?
No. While the original application (issued in June 2018) did stipulate the program would be on a first-come-first-serve basis, that decision-making process was never utilized.
There are allegations that Mama Lattes Coffee Shop has been treated unfairly or purposely left out of the first round of funding. Is this true?
No. Mamma Lattes was not recommended for funding because the application was incomplete. Mamma Lattes was invited to apply in the next round, did so, and has been funded.
Where can someone find the criteria and preferences for determining who gets funding? And does the criteria ever change?
Criteria is found on page 1 bullet No. 6 of the current BIP application. It has been a standalone, bulleted item on page 1 since inception. The only change to the criteria is the inclusion of Stewart Street as a priority target following city council's approval of the Stewart Street expansion area.
Are the matching funds deposited with MSM and how do people know the match was paid?
No, they are not. Proof the match was paid is inherent in the completed project and the project paperwork.
One applicant supposedly obtained matching funds through a GoFundMe.com account. Is this allowed?
MSM is not concerned how the required match is obtained as long as the funds are available when needed. There are various means and methods to fund projects. This method does so without incurring debt.
Do you report on how these funds are spent?
Yes. We provide a financial report monthly to the MSM board and Milton City Council. This report includes complete accounting for the bank account utilized for BIP funds.