Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Oshkosh officials eye loan fund of more than $1 million to help small businesses hit by COVID-19 disruption

Oshkosh Media
The Oshkosh Common Council hears about plans to use public funds to help local small business.
By Miles Maguire
Local officials are racing to put together a revolving loan fund that could top $1million to assist small businesses that are facing financial catastrophe because of COVID-19.

At the end of Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, City Manager Mark Rohloff outlined the plans, which are still several weeks away from possible approval and implementation.

The funds would draw on existing loan programs from the city and the Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp, with additional money from one of the city’s special tax districts and possibly from Winnebago County.

“The best analogy I have is we’re kind of in a desert, and we’re offering sips of water,” Rohloff said, “It’s not a ton of money, just enough to keep them going.”

Under a “safer-at-home” order that took effect Wednesday at 8.m. and runs until April 24, nonessential “businesses and operations must cease,” Gov. Evers said. Financial disruption caused by COVID-19 has already sent the economy into a tailspin and thrown thousands of people out of work.

The funds would be directed at businesses, not individuals, and would be loans, not grants. Money would be available both to businesses that are still operating and those that have temporarily closed their doors. It’s still up in the air whether nonprofit organizations would qualify.

“These would be short-term loans, bridge loans,” said Council Member Matt Mugeraurer. “This will help them keep the lights on, to keep going.”

Council Member Bill Miller said that he had been in contact with Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris and Sheriff John Matz. Miller reported that those officials were interested in contributing county funds.

“The urgency for cash flow is so evident that we don’t want to delay too much,” Rohloff said. “We’re going to need council action.” The council’s next scheduled meeting is April 14.

The major source of money would come from the tax increment district that was set up to subsidize the development of the 100 block of North Main Street. The district was established in 2001 and was scheduled to close out next year with a fund balance of more than $500,000, according to city planning documents.

The fund balance could be used within a half-mile of the site, said Community Development Director Allen Davis. This area covers a large part of downtown.

Although details are still to be worked out, it appears that GO-EDC would be tapped to administer the program.

Davis said the city is looking at additional options in case the current business disruption continues. “We’re working on Plans B and C,” he said.

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