McLean County Board Finance Committee members Wednesday evening asked Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council Director Patrick Hoban to develop guidelines to repurpose money from a business creation fund to help existing businesses hit by pandemic-caused shutdowns.
The worry among a majority of board members is that small businesses might not have enough reserves to resume operations when stay-at-home orders are lifted and they are allowed to serve customers again.
“We have an emergency right now and the emergency gets worse every single day for small businesses regardless of where they are. People are losing their jobs in huge numbers,” said Democratic board member Carlo Robustelli.
The state is doing something to address that, as is the federal government. But several members, including Robustelli, noted it is unclear when those programs might get up and running.
“We need something to put in place now so they can have emergency funding, possibly for a bridge loan or something like that, and I think that’s a good idea,” said GOP board member Chuck Erickson.
Hoban noted the landscape is shifting rapidly and small businesses often do not have the expertise or time to navigate complex government portals and programs, applications, and eligibility guidelines. Hoban said the EDC and McLean County Chamber of Commerce are working together to form a clearinghouse of information to address that issue. He said the EDC may end up acting something like a case manager to help businesses through various processes.
The fund has about $600,000 in it. There have been few low-interest loans disbursed from it in recent years to entice new businesses to come to the county.
Robustelli said McLean County is uniquely positioned to help existing businesses on the edge caused by the coronavirus disruption.
“I don’t think there is a county like us that has funds set aside for the purpose of an economic development program for a loan-like program,” said Carlo Robustelli. “And I think we should use them for an emergency loan program as soon as possible, targeted at keeping small businesses and those they employ in place while they are trying to get other funds and trying to do other things.”
Hoban agreed to consult with County Administrator Camille Rodriguez and draft guidelines for Finance Committee consideration at a special meeting as early as April 8. Approval then would allow the Executive Committee to take up the proposal and forwarded it to the full board yet this month.
There was less consensus among committee members about the possibility of moving back a June 1 deadline to pay the first installment of property taxes to July. Also discussed was the possibility of waiving late fees and interest payments on late property taxes. County Treasurer Becky McNeil said that would require full board approval. Some Finance Committee members expressed reservations at delaying taxing bodies such as schools and townships of needed access to revenue to pay teachers or improve roads.
More discussion on those issues will also happen at the special meeting next week.
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