SOMERSET, NJ – Township officials reversed course on how federal COVID-19 relief funds will be spent in Franklin. Mayor Phil Kramer announced last night that the town plans to repurpose money it originally earmarked for small businesses to provide direct relief to struggling residents. 

“We had had a program that we offered to businesses for CDBG grants if they were having COVID-related losses,” Kramer said. “We actually only got one person to apply so we’re repurposing the money along with some money that council had set aside for COVID testing.” 

In June the township received over $160,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which provided money made available by congress through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES). 

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The council originally decided to direct about $85,000 of that money towards small business relief with the hope some of it would “trickle down” to residents. CDBG Administrator Deborah Mitchell said in June that the money could help between 11 and 17 small businesses and that “in the end, it would also assist in keeping families in their homes.” 

With the township getting a single application instead of the dozen or more officials hoped for, that $85,000 will now be used to provide rent relief to qualifying residents. 

According to the mayor, struggling renters will have to meet criteria like income thresholds depending on family size along with providing proof that they have not been behind on rent before the coronavirus pandemic. 

Kramer also said that residents could be looking at an increase in their water bills sometime in the future. American Water was granted a 6.6% rate increase, the mayor said at last night’s council meeting, but the township will absorb those costs for now. 

One way the township was looking at paying for the raise would mean a $2.85 increase on each quarter’s payment for township water users. But at the recommendation of the township’s financial oversight committee, Kramer said that for now at least, there won’t be any rate increase for residents. 

“A lot of people are suffering so we thought we would absorb it,” he said. “But eventually, we will have to – hopefully when COVID is over – we will have to pass that on and raise rates.”

The council also passed a bookkeeping ordinance last night that changes Myrtle Avenue to Myrtle Street. Earlier this month Township Manager Robert Vornlocker said the police department requested the change. The correct street name – Myrtle Street – is used everywhere except for the township’s books. 

With the ordinance’s passage, the township’s books now match its reality. 

“Certainly, there are technical differences between a Myrtle Avenue and Myrtle Street as it is applied in the law, so we’ll just let the police department make the correction and move on,” Vornlocker said on Nov. 10.

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