City commissioners approved a COVID-19 emergency micro loan program Wednesday as a way to help businesses struggling to recover from the pandemic.

They approved taking $200,000 from money budgeted to pay the debt service for the Oglethorpe Convention Center. The fund has $359,000 that was planned to pay the debt the city expected to be paying for a completed convention center.

City officials are still negotiating an agreement with a company that plans to build a hotel on the same site as the convention center.

Downtown Development Authority Director Mathew Hill said there are 419 licensed city businesses with 20 or fewer employees who he said could be eligible for loans up to $1,000. Recipients will have two years to repay the loan, with no requirement to make a payment for the first year.

Businesses failing to repay the loans within two years will be charged a late fee on the interest-free loan, and they will not be allowed to renew their business licenses until the loan is repaid.

Hill said the demand might be greater than the money available.

“There are more businesses eligible than we have funds for,” he said. “We anticipate quite a few will apply.”

Commissioner Vincent Williams said if the demand exceeds the money available, the maximum amount could be less than $1,000.

“They’ve got to pay this money back,” Brunswick Mayor Cornell Harvey said.

Commissioners also approved the purchase of new tax software that will make it easier for city workers and the public to use.

Finance director Tina Edwards said problems with the existing software are “well documented.”

Commissioner Julie Martin got assurances there would be no problems transferring data from the existing system to the new one.

“I want to make sure the support is there,” she said.

In other business, a general liability and property insurance policy was approved. The new policy will cost $36,000 more than last year, but the increase had nothing to do with any mistakes or problems with the city, Edwards said.

The public meeting ended with a discussion about the national attention the city has received as a result of the Ahmaud Arbery shooting death investigation.

Commissioners said justice needs to be servers quickly.

Commissioner Felicia Harris described the shooting as a “travesty of justice,” and she expressed frustration with the way the investigation was handled. But she said city officials are working behind the scenes to make sure the investigation is handled properly.

Martin said she is “incensed” by the way the investigation was handled.

“There’s a lot we need to heal from,” she said. “It’s hard to understand how this happened.”

Assistant city manager Tanet Myers said city employees are very concerned. City Hall has received bomb threats from people who don’t understand the shooting happened outside city limits, and the city had nothing to do with the investigation.

“We continue to serve the public,” she said. “We’re working. We’re dealing with things out of our control.”

Harvey said he spoke with Gov. Brian Kemp about the case Wednesday and told him the case needs “swift justice.” He said there is an effort to assemble a grand jury to review the case.

“The process has taken too long,” he said. “We as a city need to make a statement we want justice.”

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