GUSTINE - City Hall is extending a helping hand to businesses shut down due to pandemic restrictions.

The City Council last week approved a program under which affected businesses can apply to have their water, sewer and garbage bills paid for up to four months going forward.

The city will use approximately $12,000 in federal coronavirus relief (CARES Act) money to fund the program, according to staff reports.

City Manager Doug Dunford said more than two dozen Gustine businesses have been closed by pandemic restrictions.

The grant program for municipal services is not retroactive as adopted, but the council is expected to eventually consider adding a retroactive component to cover business closures imposed earlier this year if money remains available.

As adopted, Dunford said, the program will cover city bills for water, sewer and garbage starting with the August bill and continuing through the November bill.

But the program will cease if those businesses are allowed to re-open sooner, he noted.

“I am hoping they are back in business. I hope it doesn’t last that long,” said Dunford.

Business owners must complete a simple application for the program, he noted.

Dunford said the amount of the bills vary widely by business.

He told Mattos Newspapers that the City Council may review the program in September and make adjustments based on the number of businesses participating and the amount of funding available.

“We are seeing what we can do. Come September we may amend it to make it a little broader. We are not sure how many businesses are going to put in for it,” Dunford explained.

Business owner Sherri Marsigli urged the council to make the program retroactive to cover the initial shutdown, and to consider pro-rating business licenses.

Business owners, she noted, were paying for city services they did not use.

“I’m still $200 in the hole for something I did not use. I was literally supposed to re-open tomorrow. They are not going to let me,” Marsigli told the council. “I’m not using my business license, and I am not using my sewer and water.”

Even if a business is closed and not actively using services, base rates apply for existing service accounts.

Mayor Pat Nagy said he was open to the idea of considering retroactive payments if circumstances allowed.

If businesses are allowed to re-open before the assistance program has run its course and money is still available, Nagy said, retroactive payments could be considered.

“We don’t want to give money back to the government,” he stated. “I would rather give th emoney to our businesses help them.”

“If there is money left, I have no problem going back and giving it to them,” agreed Mayor Pro Tem Joe Oliveira.

Officials emphasized that businesses which close permanently are not eligible for the assistance program.