REGINA -- Businesses in Regina may soon be able to access a pot of $2 million in funds, helping them pay for costs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some city councillors on the executive committee expressed support Wednesday of the funding plan, saying the city should step up in some capacity.

“We have to make sure we’re targeted and not duplicating programs that either the federal or provincial governments have,” said Mayor Michael Fougere, speaking after the meeting. “There is a role to play, but it is modest.”

The plan, which requires final approval from city council later this month, would help businesses pay for personal protective equipment or other urgent necessities. As well, it would help them develop online sales platforms to diversify.

The money would come at a time when businesses across the city have struggled financially because of the pandemic.

“I’ve heard from many businesses that are hanging on by their last strings, so I would be supportive of this,” said Coun. Lori Bresciani, during the meeting.

The grants would have to be matched by businesses. They would be able to access $1,000 to $25,000. Applications would be reviewed by a committee, which would include representatives from the city, the Regina and District Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Regina.

The aid money would come from the city’s general reserve fund.

During much debate at committee, councillors decided to tweak some aspects of the proposed program.

The plan was initially to be administered by the chamber of commerce, but councillors thought it should be wholeheartedly administered by the city.

Coun. Bob Hawkins said the change helps avoid any potential conflict of interest, given businesses applying for the grant may have memberships with the chamber.

The change could delay access to grants by a few days, according to city staff, but they said they will re-prioritize to ensure it’s delivered quickly.

During the meeting, representatives from the Regina Hotel Association and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business asked for aid.

Tracy Fahlman, the president and CEO of the hotel association, told councillors that the industry has been among the hardest hit.

She said the association is asking for full forgiveness of taxes. Councillors, however, wondered if there are other ways to help the industry that doesn’t involve providing a full reprieve.

City manager Chris Holden said hotels could still access the funding, as can other businesses.  

Holden said council will likely have to look at other types of support by September. That’s when the city will have a better idea of residents' financial situation.

However, he said the city is limited in its ability to help.

Fougere said he wants to see how the situation unfolds before the city makes any further commitments.

“I don’t want us to be a burden on taxpayers,” he said. “This is through our reserves. They are not plentiful and they are meant for emergencies.”