PUEBLO — Small businesses in Pueblo are begging that the City consider forgiving the COVID-19 emergency loans they received back in 2020.
On Monday evening, several small business owners sat in front of City Council members, stating their cases regarding why the over $1 million dollars in loans should not be required to be paid back to the city.
"I can't name any business that could currently afford to pay it back because, let's face it, we're not back to normal," said Lee Gladney, owner of Pueblo Bearings.
Gladney did not receive any loans from the city during the height of the pandemic, but says he "came to the realization that we (small businesses) need to stick together" when COVID-19 hit.
The conversation sparked a lengthy debate between City Council members over whether or not to waive the loans.
City Council ultimately voted to defer the loan payments until the summer of 2022 with no interest, but are expected to reconsider the option of total loan forgiveness.
District 1 Representative Bob Schilling believes that all of the loans should be paid back by the small businesses, as he considers the feelings of other citizens in the community.
"The rest of the citizens I think fully expect those debts to be paid, and giving them a year to get ahead and not charge them any interest, I don't know how far over backwards we bend."
However, Representative at Large Mark Aliff has no concerns that the people of Pueblo will be upset at the decision to forgive small business's loans.
"The only correspondence that I've gotten from citizens is that they fully support forgiving the loans. The community knows how important small business is to our success as a community and whatever we can do to help as a community to help, they want to help."
Recently, the City made the decision to forgive all loans that went to non-profits in Pueblo.
"The fair thing to do, the equitable thing to do would be for City Council to cancel those loans, or forgive those loans, just like they did for the non-profits. It makes sense," said Gladney, who believes that if non-profits can have their loans waived, so should small business, who he argues lost more during the pandemic than non-profits who receive funding from the City and County regularly.
Aliff mentioned that the City was willing to use $5 million dollars from the Economic Development Funds that come from taxes toward COVID-19 relief in Pueblo, and as far as he is aware, these loans used one-fifth of that. According to him, the City was reimbursed for the loans given out by the State's financial aid during the pandemic. However, Schilling believes that waiving the loans "sets a bad precedent" going forward.
"If you start doing that... Well, let's just ask the city for money and they won't make us pay it back!"
34 businesses total received COVID-19 emergency loans. According the Schilling, two of those businesses have began making payments.