Big Red Bucks program moves to next phase

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By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

An initiative to help get local businesses back on track will move forward, with the next step being discussions with the owners.

Known as Big Red Bucks, the program was first proposed by Town Manager Michael Borg and will be paid for through the American Repair Plan Act funding that the town will receive. Borg said that between last year’s lockdown and months of having to do business a new way, local stores and restaurants have suffered much. He said a program to encourage “buying local” is one way to help.

The program would cost $25,000 in its first year and the same amount the year after. Big Red Bucks would be subject to an annual audit.

This is seed money designed to bring business back to the local businesses,” said Borg at a Finance Subcommittee meeting where he outlined the program.

Interested business owners would need to sign up for the Big Red Bucks program. Customers that spend $100 at a participating business (this could be at one location or several) would receive a Big Red Bucks voucher worth $10 that could be used at those same locations. Owners would then turn in those vouchers at Town Hall for cash. Fliers would be posted at local stores that are part of the program.

Borg said that if all $25,000 Big Red Bucks were utilized, it would translate into $275,000 for the owners, plus meals taxes.

Our businesses have been impacted by COVID-19 and we are able to help them out,” said Borg, adding that other communities have had success with similar programs.

The funding was recommended for approval by the subcommittee and later by Town Council, but not without concerns. Councilor Andrea Slobogan said she met with several owners, who said they hadn’t even heard of Big Red Bucks before now.

I love the idea of it, but would behoove us to sit with business owners to see what works best for them,” she said at the Nov. 22 council meeting. “There’s no rush to do this now.”

Fellow Councilor JoAnn Cathcart said that talking to business owners before the funding was in place was akin to “putting the cart before the horse,” adding that Slobogan had overstepped her purview by meeting with the owners.

You should have them talk to the Town Manager,” she said.

Borg said that meetings with the owners to flesh out the program will soon be done. Economic Development Director Lyle Pirnie added that the town can expect a month of discussions before Big Red Bucks is finalized. Borg said that if the program doesn’t work, it will be terminated.

Unless you do it exactly right, you’re in big big trouble,” said Pirnie. “We will make it work properly. Trust us.”