01STOCK_JANESVILLE_CITYHALL01

JANESVILLE

A small-business microloan program could provide aid to Janesville businesses as early as mid-June as part of the city’s working plan for COVID-19 recovery.

The city council on Monday began discussing a draft of the city’s COVID-19 pandemic recovery plan created by the city’s economic development office.

No action was taken, but each council member had a chance to provide input and guidance to city staff.

The plan includes an outline for a small-business microloan fund to help businesses not eligible for assistance from federal or county aid programs.

The $100,000 program would allow businesses to receive up to $5,000 for help with rent, mortgage, paying suppliers or other costs, said Gale Price, economic development director.

Rock County’s emergency loan program requires businesses to have been open at least 12 months, have fewer than 20 employees and provide proof of revenue loss.

Janesville’s loan program could help businesses that don’t meet those prerequisites, Price said.

Price, who is on the approval board for the county’s program, said the county has approved loans for some applicants.

Funding for the city’s program would come from Tax Increment Financing District 21, which closed this year.

Businesses would be responsible for paying back the loan. Repaid money would be allocated to the city’s downtown revolving loan fund, according to a city memo.

Council President Sue Conley asked whether the repaid money could be used to help businesses outside of downtown.

Staff considered using the money to help downtown because businesses there generally have greater need because of costs associated with maintaining older buildings, Price said.

City officials consulted with business representatives while drafting the plan but took limited public input to avoid slowing down the process, Price said.

The city council would have to approve a budget amendment to make the loan program possible.

If a budget amendment was approved at the next council meeting May 26, loan funds could be disbursed as soon as mid-June, Price said.

Other ideas in the plan included offering business coaching from the city and Forward Janesville, extending deadlines for businesses that are expected to have hired a certain number of employees as dictated by TIF agreements, a marketing program for local hotels, and more.

Council member Paul Benson had a number of non-business-related suggestions that would have community-wide effects.

The first was training city staff members who might have their workloads reduced by the pandemic to help the county do coronavirus contact tracing, Benson said. County workers interview people who have tested positive to learn who they have been in contact with recently to determine where they might have gotten the disease and to whom they might have spread it.

Benson predicted some people will be wary of visiting businesses for some time during and after the pandemic. Providing access to resources could help control the spread and ease the minds of consumers.

Benson also suggested the city research the cost and ability to send absentee ballots to every Janesville resident for the August primary and November general elections. Wisconsin’s decision to hold an in-person election in April was contentious and garnered national attention.

Health officials suspect there will be a second wave of COVID-19 cases in late summer or fall after current cases taper off.

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