The Cowlitz County commissioners Tuesday approved economic recovery grants totaling
$1 million to more than 70 local businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Cowlitz Economic Development Council (CEDC) group did “blind reviews” of the 203 applications submitted to objectively score them, President Ted Sprague said. A committee of elected officials reviewed the group’s recommendations and put forward the final 74 for commissioner approval.
The system wasn’t perfect but was created quickly to get the businesses the money as soon as possible, Sprague said.
The county received about
$6 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding and the commissioners decided to initially allocate $1 million for business relief grants. The money can not be used to replace revenue but can cover costs related to the pandemic.
The approved businesses will sign contracts with the CEDC outlining allowable reimbursements, Sprague said. The companies will submit invoices of those expenses and once approved by the CEDC, the county will send out the money.
Sprague said he anticipates most of the money will be sent to businesses before the end of the month.
The grants ranged from $1,000 to $35,000. Although location of the business (besides being within the county) was not taken into account, the grants ended up being split fairly by population, Sprague said.
In other business, plans to restart criminal jury trials moved forward Tuesday after the commissioners approved a resolution allowing the Cowlitz County Superior Court to meet at the Event Center.
The court announced last week tentative plans resume jury trials the last week of July.
The court must obtain permission for the move from the commissioners and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Trials were paused in April as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Chad Connors, Superior Court administrator, said it’s important to resume proceedings to provide justice to victims and due process to defendants.
The Cowlitz County Event Center, which is just down the street from the Hall of Justice, is one of few available spaces large enough to accommodate social distancing guidelines for the number of people involved in a jury trial.
Everyone in physical attendance will have to wear facemasks, according to a court press release. Hand sanitizer will be provided, and anyone who develops COVID-19 symptoms during the trial will be excused. Any juror summoned who has symptoms of the virus also will be excused.
Superior Court handles felony criminal matters and nearly all civil matters. Connors said the court has been able to hold some non-jury trials and civil proceedings virtually over Zoom, but the platform doesn’t work well for larger criminal trials.
More than 600 felony cases are pending trial, compared to the usual 300 to 400, Connors said. Setting trial dates with some certainty will help motivate those involved and likely will lead to some resolving without going to trial, he said.
Superior Court has always struggled with backlogs and dealing with the added delays is going to be an additional challenge, Connors said.
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