Some Will County council members have expressed support for using money from a recreational marijuana sales tax to fund a revolving loan program for local businesses.
Will County Board Chair Mimi Cown, D-Naperville, detailed the idea at a committee meeting last Thursday.
“We realized it’s a worthy thing to pursue, but it’s also kind of complex,” she said at the meeting.
The program would benefit local small businesses by making a loan available to them at a lower interest rate than a bank might charge, as the county will not be looking to make a profit. The hope is that the modest interest rate would give the county enough money to cover any defaults.
Loan amounts can also be lower than what many businesses typically take out. The county could also use outside financial officers to administer the program, Cowan said.
“It allows (businesses) to come in and say, ‘Look, I just need $5,000…for my small business,'” Cowan said. “And he’s investing in the future of those companies, which then helps us keep the economy afloat.”
Cowan added that she aims to form a task force comprised of board members, other county officials, the Will County Economic Development Center, finance professionals and possibly executives. from the local community and businesses to discuss how such a program might work.
She pointed out that any ideas that may emerge from the group’s discussions would not be the final version of the program as the county council would have the final approval.
Since the recreational product became legal in 2020, the county government has received approximately $1.8 million in tax revenue, most of which has been generated by the county’s own 3% sales tax. Dispensaries operate in Joliet and Romeoville.
Member Jackie Traynere, D-Bolingbrook, urged the board to move faster to distribute at least some of the funds. She introduced the idea members had been discussing about using some funds for scholarships, which she thought could be done more quickly than a revolving business loan program.
“We’ve collected some time, we’ve got a good piece,” Traynere said. “I think it’s time to at least designate dollar amounts and the project, and, where we can, start moving forward.”
Cowan said she hopes to bring something to the board for approval in March.
Minority Leader Mike Fricilone, R-Homer Glen, suggested using some of the funds to help build a new building for the county’s Children’s Advocacy Center, which helps law enforcement investigate abuse against children. He echoed Cowan’s concern that designing a loan program would be more complicated because the county would have to be repaid, unlike a grant or scholarship.
“I think there’s a lot more talk to be had,” he said.
Member Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, said she did not support a loan scheme, arguing it would be difficult to do so fairly. If the county were to move forward with such a program, she suggested designing it so the county could gauge its effectiveness before continuing to operate long-term.
Some county officials have also stressed that regardless of how the funds are used, they should be reinvested to help community members who have been negatively affected by marijuana laws in the past.
Member Jim Moustis, R-Frankfort, said the county should focus on people who may have had a nonviolent marijuana-related conviction on their record that hindered their opportunities. He said helping boost job opportunities could “really make a difference in a person’s life”.