With a belief they can make a bigger difference while directing the money locally, Burlingame officials agreed to pull money from the San Mateo County Strong Fund.

The Burlingame City Council voted 3-2, with Mayor Emily Beach and Councilman Ricardo Ortiz dissenting, to withdraw the city’s remaining contribution from the county relief fund assisting businesses harmed by COVID-19.

The contribution, worth as much as $180,000, will go back to control of Burlingame officials who hoped the funds could be set aside for helping local companies reopen or fueling other economic stimulus programs.

“We have a great, golden opportunity to redeploy funds in a way that I hope will help more businesses — not fewer,” said Councilwoman Donna Colson during the meeting Monday, June 1.

In March, councilmembers allocated $500,000 of city money to the fund administered by the San Mateo County Economic Development Association and San Mateo Credit Union. Following criteria set for the San Mateo County Strong fund, 32 Burlingame businesses received $10,000 grants designed to help them survive the pandemic.

But Burlingame officials noted the fund’s grant formula diverged from the city’s preference, primarily around the annual revenue required to receive money. City officials wanted larger enterprises with at least $5 million in revenue to be eligible, while the county’s threshold was set at $2.5 million.

Following discussions determining the differences could not be reconciled, Burlingame officials started considering pulling the remaining funds from the county and assuming control over the spending strategy.

The San Mateo County Strong Fund received more than $8 million in donations, according to a presentation Tuesday, June 2, to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

About $2 million of the county fund has been directed to individuals and families through core service agencies, while $1.8 million was distributed to nonprofit organizations and $2.8 million was granted to small businesses.

During the Burlingame City Council meeting, officials admired the county’s commitment to supporting local businesses. Councilmembers said the decision to take back control of its contribution should not be interpreted as an indictment on the county’s work.

“We are here to help our business community and I think being flexible is a good thing,” said Councilman Michael Brownrigg, in building his case for retrieving the city’s contribution.

Those who favored taking the money back said it could be set aside to help companies acquire protective equipment, shields or other tools needed to reopen when allowed.

Others suggested the money could be used to help local businesses navigate potential challenges with operating along Burlingame Avenue, should the street be shut down to traffic to give more space for merchants. Officials are slated to discuss such a proposal Monday, June 15.

Ortiz though said he was uncomfortable with taking the money back from the county, which he suggested could more efficiently allocate the resources. He also questioned the optics of asking the funds to be returned.

For her part, Beach favored keeping the money with the county, which would preclude city officials from needing to make challenging decisions about which initiatives most deserve the money.

“It keeps us at arm’s distance of picking winners and losers,” she said.

Ultimately, the dissenting votes were overruled though.

“I want to take the money back and see what we can do to help these businesses open in the future,” said Vice Mayor Ann O’Brien Keighran.

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