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Sonoma may bring back matching loans for businesses

By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma officials are trying to revive a program that makes small matching loans available to businesses in the city.

Drawing from a $50,000 fund, the city would offer matching loans up to $10,000 to businesses for purposes ranging from facade improvements to meeting disabled accessibility requirements and making energy and water efficiency improvements.

Sonoma Plaza.

Sonoma Plaza.

The loans would be forgiven over a period of time if the businesses maintain their improvements and remain open.

The plan, which goes to the City Council on April 7, was developed by City Manager Carol Giovanatto and Laurie Decker, who works with the city’s partnership with the Chamber of Commerce.

“This is a way to make those costs less prohibitive and encourage the small business owner to move forward with these kinds of projects,” 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.

The city is attempting to restore a program that it operated from 2007 to 2011 with redevelopment funds. That ended when the state Legislature eliminated all redevelopment agencies in 2011.

In its lifetime, the program gave out 37 loans, most for facade improvements, some for building rehabilitation projects.

“It was very successful under the age of redevelopment and we’re trying to recreate that,” Giovanatto said.

The new program would be funded with a small pot of remaining redevelopment funds. But it would be open to businesses citywide, rather than just in the downtown core, as was the case before. Business owners who own or lease their property are eligible. Formula businesses are not eligible.

At the Mission Hills Mortgage office on Broadway, branch manager Brooks Rumph said the previous program had been important to the business, which needed a new sign in 2009.

“The budget for signage was lower than what my bid was coming in for,” he said. He borrowed $2,500 from the city to match a private loan and built a new monument and sign.

“It gave me the opportunity to get the signage I needed for visibility within the company’s budget,” said Rumph.

And in a year the loan was forgiven.

“It was amazing,” said Rumph, who is now replacing the sign, but not the monument, because the company has been bought by Banc Home Loans.

Decker said she hopes the program will make 10 to 12 loans in its first year. After that, Giovanatto said, the challenge will be to keep it going.

“It was my proposal that we’re going to do this now and try to get a few more dollars into the community, and we’ll look at it on a year-to-year basis,” she said.

The backing of the council, which provisionally set aside money for it at a mid-year budget review, seems likely.

“We’re budgeted for it, we’ve done it in the past, it seems to be something that’s very popular with the local businesses,” said Mayor Tom Rouse.





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