By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
City Considers Loan Program
Placeholder Image
Downtown merchants had asked the City of Riverbank to pay their rents for six months to stay in business in the face of road repairs and a declining economy, estimating that could cost the general fund about $100,000.

At Monday night's meeting, however, City Council members held out the prospect of providing long term, minimal interest loans through the city's Community Block Development Grant (CBDG) small business loan program, deferring the payment of city utility bills for a period or helping eligible businesses obtain enterprise zone business tax credits.

With the other two council members leaving the dais because they live within the redevelopment area, Cris Crifasi, Dave White and David I. White discussed the mater and gave staff direction to return on Dec. 22 with a more detailed proposal of how the city can help the merchants.

"We have said we care about our businesses and we do," said Crifasi. "This project has gone sideways. Nothing upsets me more. But stuff happens when government is dealing with utility companies. The downtown eventually will be a good place. The merchants will prosper and be able to repay."

Crifasi was for the CDBG small business loan program, learning from Economic Development and Housing Director Tim Ogden that there is currently about $170,000 in that fund. The city could set aside $100,000 in loans but it will need to ask each business individually what it needs, said Crifasi.

Ogden noted businesses in an enterprise zone (including the downtown) can obtain a hiring tax credit ($35,000 for each new eligible employee over a five year period), sales tax credits on new equipment and other benefits.

"It's the least we can do," said Councilmember Dave White of the proposal to forgive payment of utility bills for a set period time, requiring the water and sewer enterprise accounts be repaid eventually out of the general fund.

"It's a tough situation," added David I. White. "My problem is setting a precedent and making the city liable to having every business hampered by road repairs seek compensation. But the downtown has been torn up a long time and nobody foresaw the economy going down. How can we help?"

Council also directed Public Works Director Dave Mellili to get together with the construction contractor to prioritize the schedule to enable better access to the downtown businesses while keeping safety at a maximum and ensuring minimal risk liability for the city.

Ogden's memo had also proposed the option of helping the merchants out of funds set aside for an existing Redevelopment Agency project such as downtown beautification or the Del Rio Theater conversion to a performing arts center. Council members did not comment on this proposal but voted down spending $44,000 for HY Architects to do another structural safety survey of the building. They also recommended the building "be shut down and boarded up" pending a workshop on whether it is worth spending more money on it.