Havre de Grace has taken the first step toward abolishing RAD loans that have helped numerous small business owners develop, expand, relocate or otherwise keep their businesses afloat since 1990.
At the request of the state government, the city introduced a resolution at Monday night's city council meeting that would end its Revitalization and Development Loan program, more commonly known as RAD loans, started nearly a quarter of a century ago with a $392,500 grant from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.
From that beginning, used to fund the now-defunct Bay City Market at the foot of Congress Avenue, the business loans from the revolving fund have continued.
"The reason this is coming up is there is somewhat of a mandate coming," said Councilman Steve Gamatoria, who introduced the resolution calling for the abolishment of the loan program.
The next step in the process is a public hearing on the abolishment resolution scheduled for Monday, Aug. 18, at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
In a July 3 letter to Mayor Wayne Dougherty, the state asked the city to return the nearly $212,000 in the fund to the state, which would then be sent back to the city as a grant to be used for any project, including the opera house restoration.
The state says the move is necessary to meet numerous federal requirements, which gives the money to the state for disbursement, including environmental and national fair housing reviews of all businesses receiving loans.
"We've had a lot of success with it and we could have a lot more success with it," Councilman Fred Cullum said about the loan program. "I don't want to see it go away, but we might not have a choice."
Four people, including two business owners, from the audience of fewer than a dozen people spoke in defense of the program.
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"That's our money," Allen Fair, a long-time Havre de Grace businessman, said. "It's for a good purpose and it should stay there. There's a lot to be done here in town."
Lori Maslin, a Havre de Grace businesswoman, who some years ago was the beneficiary of the loan program, agreed with Fair.
"I find this to be a very sad thing," she said.
An owner of the former Ice Dreams ice cream shop in a building that became part of the Laurrapin Grille, Maslin said the RAD loan made her business possible.
"We would not have been able to get that money from a bank. I believe these loans are important."
Havre de Grace officials said at Monday night's meeting there are 11 active loans in the program.
The Town of Bel Air started a similar program that made its first loan in 2013. Harford County government operates what it calls an Economic Development Opportunity Fund that provides business financing.