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Almost two months after the Bernalillo County Commission approved spending $5 million to aid small businesses struggling amid COVID-19, officials say they still have more than a third of the money left.
They’re now trying again to get it into the community.
The County Commission on Tuesday approved opening a second application process for its CARES small business grant program as it looks to distribute the remaining $1.8 million. Applications will open again Monday.
Bernalillo County Economic Development Director Mayling Armijo said in an interview that she had expected all $5 million in grant money to go in the county’s first application wave that began June 22, noting that 178 businesses submitted applications on the first day alone.
The county ultimately issued 345 grants worth a total of about $3.2 million that were intended to help businesses and nonprofits weather pandemic-related challenges. Recipients came from a range of industries, including fitness, food service and short-term lodging. They got up to $10,000 each.
“When we were actually handing these checks out, some people were in tears,” Armijo said, noting that she heard many heart-wrenching stories of struggle during the process.
But the county also rejected about 80 applications during the first wave. Armijo said some had failed to submit complete applications, while others did not meet the criteria, which include being located inside Bernalillo County limits and having a business license. To qualify, businesses and nonprofits also must have between one and 50 full-time employees or the part-time equivalent and cannot have more than $3 million in annual taxable receipts.
Sheriff briefs the president
Also on Tuesday, the commission voted 3-2 to advance an ordinance that would create an “advisory and review board” for the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office.
Commissioner Jim Collie, who sponsored the proposal, said it would offer “a safe, public place for direct, focused public comment and consideration” about public safety matters, but noted that it has limitations. The sheriff is independently elected.
“This is not an oversight board,” Collie said. “It can’t tell anybody what to do; it can join the conversation and give advice.”
As proposed, the board would have nine members appointed or elected by the county commissioners. It could complete investigations into the sheriff’s office’s “operational policies, practices, processes and procedures,” and authorize outside experts to conduct audits and reviews.
Sheriff Manny Gonzales bristled at the idea, telling the commission during Tuesday’s meeting that it was “overreaching” and unnecessary. He encouraged the commissioners to learn more about the office by doing ride-alongs with deputies, saying he understood the community.
“Nobody has a better pulse on the public than we do. We entertain meetings with activists (and) other groups,” he said. “Maybe the commission isn’t aware of (that), but that’s at my discretion; I’m the elected official in this office.”
Commissioners Collie, Debbie O’Malley and Charlene Pyskoty voted to move the proposal to a 30-day publication phase, meaning it will go back to the commission for a final vote in September.
Commissioners Lonnie Talbert and Steven Michael Quezada voted against advancing the ordinance.
In addition to talking to the County Commission Tuesday, Gonzales had earlier in the day participated in a national call with President Donald Trump, the White House, the Department of Justice and law enforcement officials from around the country, according to his spokesman.
“While there were an estimated 1,000 law enforcement officials from around the country on the briefing call, Sheriff Gonzales was the first, of very few, officials to brief the President of the United States on law enforcement operations,” deputy Joseph Montiel wrote in a news release. “Sheriff Gonzales discussed the results and impact of Operation Relentless Pursuit and Operation Legend on Albuquerque’s crime crisis.”
According to the news release, Sheriff Gonzales said BCSO has partnered with federal law enforcement agencies to “arrest extremely dangerous felons and gang members, take illegal guns off the street, and make huge drug busts,” and is making progress on what he calls “Albuquerque’s crime crisis.”
“Lastly, can you tell my fellow law enforcement officials what else the Federal Government is working on in partnership with other Sheriffs across the country to bring law and order to our nation?” Gonzales asked the president, according to the release.
On Tuesday evening, President Trump re-tweeted a tweet from the Sheriff’s Office about the call, thanked Gonzales by name and said he appreciated his partnership in making Bernalillo County safe.
Elise Kaplan contributed to this report.