MARINETTE — The Marinette Redevelopment Authority spent a large chunk of its Wednesday meeting brainstorming ideas on how to continue a business loan program that is currently being closed out by the state. 

In the past, the Community Development Block Grant-Economic Development (CDBG-ED) program has been used to award local governments for assisting businesses to create or retain jobs for individuals with low and moderate incomes. The program typically provides funds for local businesses to assist them with opening costs, renovations, equipment purchases and employee training. The CDBG-ED program is currently being closed out and de-federalized, after approval by the State of Wisconsin, and the authority previously made a recommendation to the City Council to continue the city’s Community Development Block Grant-Economic Development (CDBG-ED) program during its Feb. 13 meeting. The council, however, kicked it back to the authority and asked for a more in-depth plan regarding how the program will continue. 

City Attorney Jonathan Sbar explained Wednesday that the state is requesting roughly $1 million from the City of Marinette to cover the approximately $700,000 of state funds earmarked for the loan program, and approximately $300,000 to cover outstanding debt the city is collecting from those who have taken out CDBG-ED loans. Once the $1 million is paid, whatever money comes in from loan payments belongs to the city. 

“Now it’s our obligation, and that’s kind of a big deal,” Sbar said. 

The city receives approximately $61,000 per year in business loan payments, or about $5,000 monthly. The Marinette Redevelopment Authority previously voted to put a moratorium on redistributing that money for at least a year, in order to build up a fund balance for any future loan program, but as Finance Director Jacqueline Miller pointed out Wednesday, that may not be a long enough period of time to wait. 

“So, the first year we’ve waited, now I’ve got $50,000,” she said. “Now, if I borrow that out to one company, now next year, I’m not going to have any money again. So we really need to think about this plan — do we want to work it, how we’re going to work it out.” 

Miller urged authority members to look over the city’s current CDBG-ED program, decide whether or not the program should continue in its current form and brainstorm ideas about how to improve it. Mayor Steve Genisot suggested the authority look into changing the program to distribute loans or grants beyond business start-up ideas that may or may not pan out. 

“The whole intent of this is creating jobs and helping small businesses,” he said. “I think it’s a worthy cause, but we want the business to be open. We don’t want to have where we’re challenged if the business never gets off the ground, never gets opened. Should it be a business operating, we could give some money to help them. Maybe they need to be open for a year, show they’ve employed people, and it’d be great to give them a grant ... that helps them with some of their costs.” 

After some discussion, authority members agreed to study the city’s current CDBG-ED program as well as similar programs in other municipalities, and come back to a future meeting with their ideas for how to proceed. The Marinette Redevelopment Authority’s next meeting is scheduled for May 8 at 4 p.m. in City Hall 214. 

In other business, the authority: 

¦ Voted unanimously to write off a foreclosed loan from the Business Development Loan Pool (BDLP), No. 54 in the amount of $42,459.25. Sbar explained that the loan was originally awarded to A&E Jewelers, 2081 Old Peshtigo Road, in the amount of $75,000, and the business paid it down to the current amount before running into financial issues and declaring bankruptcy. 

¦ Received an update on BDLP No. 64, for the opening of Bentley’s Cafe at 2100 Hall Ave. Mayoral assistant and community development specialist Jan Kust said the business owners are currently seeking a loan to finance heating and cooling systems in the building.