Wednesday, January 09, 2002

Paperwork bogs down riot loans

92 businesses applied, only 4 have gotten checks

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Before the city of Cincinnati will give a loan to a small business affected by last April's riots, the application must circulate to nine different desks at City Hall.

        And that's after the loan is approved.

        That was one of the things City Council members learned Tuesday as they tried to understand why only four of the 92 businesses that have applied for an emergency loan have actually received a check.

        Peg Moertl, the director of the city's newly combined development and neighborhood services department, said various city officials need to check the loan's collateral, conduct environmental impact studies and draw the money from the appropriate account.

        She said the city has already taken steps to reduce that red tape, and that seven loans will be closed in the next two weeks.

        But other factors holding up the loans are beyond the city's control, she said.

        Many small businesses don't have their financial records in order, which means the city must often help a business balance its books before it can even apply.

        Businesses that have sought the loans range from mom-and-pop restaurants and beauty salons in Over-the-Rhine to Citybeat magazine downtown and Air Janitorial in Avondale.

        Air Janitorial provides cleaning services for area hotels. When people stopped coming to Cincinnati after April, the company had trouble paying its bills and its 297 employees, said president Anthony Carter.

        An emergency business loan would help him get through the tough times, but his loan is bogged down in paperwork, he said.

        “This process is worse than a bank process, because at a bank at least you have one person to deal with,” he said.

        Alicia Reece, chairwoman of the City Council committee that deals with small business issues, took her committee to Over-the-Rhine Tuesday to better understand why the $1 million loan fund isn't working.

        “What good is $1 million if it's not getting to small businesses, — because of criteria that we set up?” she said.

        She and Councilman Chris Monzel want the city to create a “one-stop shop” for loan approval, with a loan committee of various city departments meeting once a week to speed the process.

        Mr. Monzel has also proposed extending the deadline to apply until Feb. 28.

        Councilman Pat DeWine questioned why the city has three different contractors — making $75 to $150 an hour — administering three different loan programs.


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