On Monday, Red Willow County Commissioners approved a modification in the revolving loan program agreement with Accents, Etc., one of any number of retail businesses across the country struggling in today's economy.
Executive Director Rex Nelson said that the McCook Economic Development board approved the change and recommended that commissioners also approve changes requested by Accents Etc.'s owner, Betty Kenner. Nelson said that Kenner would like to move two payments (plus their interest) to the end of the loan and remove the job creation criteria for one year.
Nelson said that Kenner has been impacted by a trend for shoppers to reduce or eliminate discretionary spending. "These are tough times," Nelson said. "Retail sales are down."
Nelson said that Kenner has the support of her bank.
Commissioners approved the change unanimously. McNutt said, "We'll try to work with her. It's not like she hasn't been making her payments."
Kenner's April payment had not been made as of commissioners' meeting Monday morning. Nelson said that Kenner still owes about $45,000 on a $70,000 seven-year loan that started in August of 2006.
With the loan, Kenner bought out partners who retired, and continued the gift, flower and antique consignment shop in the 300 block of Norris Avenue in downtown McCook.
In other business:
* Despite one commissioner's misgivings that grants are perceived as "free money," commissioners approved the county's involvement as a co-applicant with the MEDC and the City of McCook in the application of a two-year $75,000 "Building Entrepreneurial Communities Act" (BECA) grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.
Nelson said the grant would not involve giving money directly to new and/or expanding small businesses, but would be used to help them develop strategy, marketing, targeting and Web design, and to provide technical and professional assistance in conjunction with the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship.
Nelson said that a previous BECA grant helped fund the MEDC's business coach program that has served 60 start-up and existing business clients in its first year.
The grant will not require any "new" money, as the renovation project at the Keystone Hotel and the Hormel Business Competition can be used as primary sources of matching funds, Nelson said.
Nelson told commissioners that he can see "no downside for the county," and the upside would be promoting the city and the community and encouraging entrepreneurship. The city will handle the administration of the grant, he said.
Downer said he could see no reason not to act as a co-applicant, no reason not to apply. The grant is awarded on a competitive basis, he said. "Someone will get it," he said.
Hoyt, however, said that grants are "not free money," as many people see them, but actually tax payers' money. "It's not free money," he said. "Eventually, someone's got to pay for it." He continued, "I'm very hesitant about using grant money. It's my pet peeve."
Nelson said he wants the city, the county and MEDC "to be competitive," and "request our share. We'll make good use of it."
Downer made the motion to act as co-applicant for the BECA grant, seconded by McNutt. The vote was unanimous.
* Commissioners discussed the Red Willow County's placement in "Tier II" of roads projects in Nebraska that could be paid for with funds from the federal American Recovery and Revitalization Act. The Nebraska Association of County Officials has divided funding requests into "Approved," "Tier I," "Tier II" and "Duplicate projects within a county/Second priority."
McNutt said two projects in Red Willow County, estimated to cost $805,000, could be funded in three to six months.
Nebraska has $9.9 million for road projects from the ARRA.
McNutt, who serves on the NACO board that prioritized funding requests from counties, said NACO made a decision not to fund any individual project over $1 million, wanting, instead, to spread the federal money throughout the state.
Hoyt, who is ever skeptical about "free money," said he would love to see "all the fine print," "all the strings attached that, down the road, we don't want to be attached to. What dance are we going to have to dance later on?"