Howell officials listen to details about ‘shop local’ incentive program

HOWELL – Members of the Howell Township Council heard details of a “shop local” program during their meeting on Feb. 9.

The Howell Business Recovery Task Force has suggested the possibility of instituting an incentive program that would offer residents a way to support local business operators who are dealing with the financial impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and to receive something in return for their support.

Carmine DeFalco, a representative of Fincredit Inc., addressed officials during the meeting. He said the 10-year-old program operates in 26 Garden State municipalities.

DeFalco said he has discussed the program with Deputy Mayor Tom Russo, who chairs the Business Recovery Task Force, Township Manager Brian Geoghegan and Township Attorney Joe Clark.

“The way it works is very simple. The township issues a (shop local) card to (residents). When people shop in town at participating retailers they will present the card, which will be scanned, and a percentage of the sale … goes back to the person’s property tax bill. The more I shop in my town, the more tax credits I earn,” DeFalco said.

He said merchants like the incentive program because it is inexpensive to them.

“It does not cost anything to the township. We charge $10 a month which is normally paid by the merchant, plus we keep 2.5% of the reward. So if a (business) gives back 10%, the resident will get 7.5% and we keep 2.5% for our administrative fee,” DeFalco said.

The incentive offered by a merchant shows up as a credit on a property owner’s tax bill, he told council members.

DeFalco said residents of a municipality like neighboring Brick Township could amass a total of $60,000 to $70,000 in property tax credits in a given timeframe. He said municipal officials in some towns solicit sponsors for the shop local program.

Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell asked DeFalco if any municipality has joined the shop local program since the pandemic began.

“We have been talking to two (towns), in addition to Howell, that want to join the program. It is a process and the pandemic not only slowed down a lot of businesses, I have to say that revenue went down obviously because all the restaurants closed, but it also slowed down government business,” DeFalco said, adding that no towns have instituted the program during the pandemic.

He explained that merchants typically work with discounts, but he said this particular program offers residents the incentive of providing a credit on their property tax bill.

O’Donnell said her concern about moving forward is that participation could be hindered because of the current economic instability.

DeFalco said, “Towns need something for their merchants because the merchants are hurting. Just sitting idle is not going to help them. Just waiting is not going to help them.

“We start a program only when we have at least 15 to 20 merchants joining. We are not going to spend time to force the program (on a town) because it does not make sense for us either to have a program where you have two merchants. You have to have at least 15 to 20 merchants (participating),” he said.

Council members did not make a decision on the shop local program that evening.