Cornwall small business emergency loan program extended

(Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – While the City of Cornwall appears to be on a path to max out its small business emergency loan program, it will extend the deadline until Friday to see if there’s more interest.

Planning and Development General Manager Mark Boileau told council Monday night there were 106 applications received. There were 104 before the deadline and most were “very good, very qualified” and another two that came in after the May 15 deadline.

The small business emergency loan program is initially a $500,000 fund which will see small business repay the $400,000 while the other $100,000 will be forgivable. Businesses can receive up to $5,000 each, interest-free for three years. Four-fifths ($4,000) of it is repayable by the end of 2022 while the other fifth ($1,000) is forgivable.

The money is coming from the city’s brownfield development reserve fund so it doesn’t directly affect taxpayers in the short term.

Of the 104 applications, 80 have already been approved and another 18 are being reviewed. Five were disqualified for not meeting eligibility rules (three were outside Cornwall and two were non-profits). One other business withdrew its application.

Boileau said the program “hit the mark on what the business were looking for.”

Coun. Eric Bergeron asked if there was financial room for the two late applications. Staff said, yes, but that the program should be extended to allow for others to apply.

CAO Maureen Adams says opening the program to Friday likely won’t create a “floodgate” of applications and any additional applications could be managed.

Some councillors were troubled that the city was opening the program while not having a financial plan to cover it.

Coun. Dean Hollingsworth said he was “not really comfortable” with “plunging in headlong” by accepting more applications when there is no plan for a money source. “I realize there’s a pandemic but you don’t throw all the rules out the window…I think there needs to be some structure. We’re talking about taxpayers’ money.” He reluctantly agreed saying he didn’t “want to be the big heavy here.”

Coun. Maurice Dupelle equated the plan to putting the cart before the horse, but also reluctantly agreed given the local business climate.

Coun. Syd Gardiner agreed with extending the program and said “at the end of the day, if we can save two or three business, by giving them a loan and that’s the key word, it’s a loan. If we can save two, three, five businesses…policy be damned. Policies are there to guide us, not to restrict us.”

Mayor Bernadette Clement says the extension “just makes sense” because “we’re still in this period of time where we’re asking businesses if they need our support.”

In the initial plan the program had a deadline and was closed “and (staff) would come back to talk to us about further applications. This is not a surprising conversation that we’re having now,” the mayor explained.

“I’m comfortable with this motion as it is. I’m comfortable that it makes sense from a time flow and I’m comfortable that we will get the information that we need so that we continue to make responsible decisions as we have been throughout this entire pandemic,” Clement said.

“Our businesses, one in six are closing right now. The time to move is right now,” Bergeron said in closing before council passed the extension.