Onancock Council Hears Ideas for Using $1.1M in Federal Pandemic Recovery Funding

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Town of Onancock welcome sign. Photo by Carol Vaughn.

By Carol Vaughn —

Representatives of Onancock Main Street and other community organizations spoke during a town hall meeting the Onancock Town Council held Monday to receive comments about how to use around $1.1 million in federal pandemic recovery funds the town is set to receive.
Mayor Fletcher Fosque said the council plans to hold a work session to discuss use of the funds.
“There is a lot of money at stake. I’ve been on council for 20-some years and this is the first time I’ve ever seen this kind of money come in that wasn’t some kind of grant. … This is a huge deal and we need to take our time and do this correctly and not rush it,” Fosque said.
Town Manager Matt Spuck said staff has been researching possibilities and requirements for using the funds coming to Onancock as result of the passing of the American Rescue Plan Act.
Staff will present those findings to the town council, he said.
Onancock has not yet received the funds, which will be paid in two equal installments through the state, according to Spuck.
There are four main categories of allowed uses: to respond to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts; to provide premium pay to eligible workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 pandemic; to make up for reduction of revenue to the local government during the pandemic; and to pay for water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.
Funds must be obligated by Dec. 31, 2024, and spent by Dec. 31, 2026.
Carol Tunstall, treasurer of Onancock Main Street, a volunteer-driven, nonprofit organization working to develop and sustain the historic downtown, asked the council to consider allocating $12,000 as a cash match for a $45,000 community business launch grant offered by DHCD, for which OMS would apply next year.
The grant, if awarded, would be used to develop training for small business owners and entrepreneurs and would culminate in winners of a “Shark Tank”-type event receiving financial assistance to help them embark on a new business venture in town.
Additionally, OMS asked the council to consider using up to $100,000 to create a matching grant program for businesses and property owners to make facade improvements; and at least $20,000 to improve signage in town and in the corridor approaching town.
Turnstall also asked the council to consider setting aside funds to renovate public restrooms, including making them ADA compliant, and to use some funds to pay for powerwashing to freshen up buildings’ and sidewalks’ appearance.
Myra Riley-Taylor, president of Onancock’s Bayside Revitalization, a nonprofit organization working to revitalize Bayside, a community outside the Onancock town limits with around 100 residents, approximately 150 parcels, and 48 occupied homes and 37 abandoned homes, asked the council to consider helping pay for a dozen culverts that need replacing, at an estimated cost of $36,000, among other projects for which the group is seeking support.
“We feel that we are a part of Onancock because we are within the 23417 ZIP code,” she said.
Elizabeth Bell of the organization echoed Riley-Taylor’s request.
Shelley Strain, executive director of the Eastern Shore Coalition Against Domestic Violence, asked the council to consider allocating $100,000 toward the cost to expand ESCADV’s emergency shelter capacity from the current 12 to 16 up to 40, either by renovating or building.
The project is estimated to cost $1 million, she said.
“We continue to be proud to call Onancock home,” she said, adding the organization prefers to remain in town.
Haydon Rochester and Joani Donohoe of Historic Onancock School requested funds to demolish the dilapidated former woodshop building on the school property, which Rochester said is a hazard.
“It makes it difficult to have children on the property for soccer and using the new playground, to know that there is something there that we have to be constantly be watching,” he said.
Donohoe also requested funds be used to improve sidewalks.
Fosque also read a letter from resident Ruth Grillo asking that funds be used to improve sidewalks.
Resident Priscilla Hart applauded the previous speakers’ comments and added that she would like the town to provide and pay for a place for residents to gather — “a physical location where people can go and find comraderie. …I think it would benefit every resident here.”