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Sonoma allocates $50,000 for small business loans

The Sonoma City Council agreed Monday to set aside $50,000 for a program that will make small matching loans to businesses in the city for certain improvements.

"I'm excited about this," said Councilman Ken Brown. "This is a way to invest and reinvest in our community."

The program revives, on a smaller scale, one that existed from 2007 to 2011 and was funded by redevelopment funds. That program plowed nearly $500,000 back into the city but ended when the state eliminated redevelopment agencies. The new effort will use a one-time pot of left-over redevelopment money and its future is uncertain after those funds run out.

"It's a very slimmed down version," said City Manager Carol Giovanatto. "It's a pale version of the previous program but it is meant to reflect the city's community to the business community."

The program will make loans up to $10,000 to business owners for reasons ranging from the restoration of historic buildings to facade improvements, from water and energy efficiency improvements to meeting disability access requirements. The loans would be forgiven over a period of time if certain conditions are met.

"Will we actually see results of what these dollars are investing in?" asked Councilwoman Laurie Gallian.

Yes, said Laurie Decker, who designed the program with Giavanatto.

"We will have language in there tying it to the completion of a project - the funding would not kick in until it's completed," said Decker, economic program manager for the Sonoma Valley Economic Development Partnership, a joint venture of the city and the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce.

A key difference between the old program and the new is that previously the loans could only be made in the redevelopment area, which was essentially the downtown core. The new version will make loans available to businesses citywide.

""If there is an upside to not having the redevelopment area it's that you can set the parameters of the program you want," Decker said.


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