Citrus County spent about half what it expected in the first round of CARES Act grants to small businesses, and commissioners will decide at their Aug. 25 meeting how to proceed with the next phase.

With Friday’s deadline to apply in the first round, the county approved about $1.9 million in one-time $7,500 grants to businesses that were either ordered shut or significantly restricted by government order to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

The county received $6.5 million to provide to companies with fewer than 35 full-time employees to cover business expenses. The money must be spent by Dec. 30; any amount left over is returned to the U.S. Treasury.

The county received 618 applications. Of those 290 were approved, 206 denied and the remainder are still in the review process. Of those approved, the county sent out 255 checks, budget and management director Colleen Scott said.

Officials had expected to spend close to $4.75 million in the first round, based on their estimates that 600 to 650 Citrus County businesses met the criteria for the first round.

Those that were denied either were not closed by government order, or they didn’t have county business licenses.

Oliver said the county may expand the next round to include retail nonprofits, massage therapists and food trucks.

Also, he said, he may recommend the county provide a second $5,000 grant to bars, which still have been unable to open due to government order.

Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr. said he thinks businesses still hurting, such as restaurants still limited to 50% capacity, should be given a second grant.

“Some businesses haven’t opened at all,” he said during the Tuesday, Aug. 11 board meeting. “They definitely should be at the top of the list.”

Board Chairman Brian Coleman said he thinks the second phase should expand the criteria to include more businesses. For the third round, he said, the county can provide more financial relief to businesses that have not recovered.

“My goal is to get it all out,” he said during the board meeting.

The county is also administering the grant on behalf of the cities of Crystal River and Inverness. Commissioner Scott Carnahan suggested the county invite representatives from both cities to the next board meeting as the second phase criteria is discussed.

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.