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BLOOMINGTON — McLean County villages and small businesses could soon get a hand up from county government.

Rural areas and businesses looking to grow and bring economic development to the county would be eligible for loans under proposals being considered by the McLean County Board.

A committee of board members will meet this fall to hash out differences between two proposals from the county staff and a third from board member Jim Soeldner, who represents areas east and southeast of Bloomington-Normal, including Downs, Ellsworth, Heyworth and LeRoy.

Up to $600,000 could be spent on the program, which would use part of $1 million the county once was required by the state to set aside for community development loans. Board members discussed this spring setting up a new program with the same goal but less funding, leaving the rest for economic development or to reduce the county's property tax rate.

Under one proposal from the county staff, businesses with 50 or more local employees could apply for as much as $250,000 — 40 percent of a project's cost — to be repaid over up to 15 years at or below market rates, as long as they create one job per $35,000 lent and use specific locations in the county.

Under another, small businesses that can't get commercial loans could apply for as much as $50,000 to be repaid over no more than six years at 7.75 percent to 9.75 percent interest, depending on the applicant.

Both programs would include the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, and Illinois Wesleyan University's Small Business Development Center could get involved as well.

"These outlines are provided to the committee as a framework and primer to committee discussion," said County Administrator Bill Wasson in a memo. "(The committee could then) provide staff with additional guidance."

Under Soeldner's proposal, rural groups would be able to apply for $10,000 to be repaid over seven years at low interest — 0 percent to 3 percent — "to promote themselves by aiding in the procurement of signage, (brochures), park equipment, other equipment and other products and services to bring in more retail, manufacturing and education opportunities."

Municipalities, civic and fraternal organizations, school groups and other not-for-profit groups would be eligible. For-profit groups would not.

A committee of County Board members, not including those who represent the area in question, would decide whether to approve loan applications.

"I believe this opportunity to aid the rural towns in McLean County would be well received by the villages and the taxpayers," said Soeldner in a memo to the board's finance committee, which discussed the idea Wednesday.

"This is in the spirit of the former (state-mandated) program, to help community development and allow groups to determine what purchasers would aid in that goal."

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Contact Derek Beigh at (309) 820-3234. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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Normal and McLean County Reporter

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