Dubuque County supervisors choose leniency for 3 businesses delinquent in emergency loan repayments

The Dubuque County Board of Supervisors recently agreed to forgo legal action or even further pursuit of payment from three small businesses that have not repaid $10,000 loans from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At least one of the three businesses has since closed. The then-owner of another has since died. The county and partners have been unable to reach the third.

This loan program was approved in May 2020 as a means of saving businesses impacted during early restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. The program has been managed by East Central Intergovernmental Association.

“Those were an effort to keep the economy and keep these businesses afloat, and to tamp down what was at one point almost 30% unemployment we had in Dubuque County,” said County Supervisor Jay Wickham, supplying context during a recent Board of Supervisors meeting. “That’s when these loans were initiated.”

Nineteen businesses in Dubuque County outside of the city of Dubuque were given loans. Of those, 15 are making regular payments on interest and principal. One has repaid in full.

The three businesses that are delinquent are Crystal Lake Cave LLC in rural Dubuque, whose owner Julie Rubel died in February but which still is in operation; Joe’s 2nd Street Diner in Dyersville, which closed in February; and Performance Edge, which was paying until the end of March.

ECIA staff and County Auditor Kevin Dragotto brought the matter of the missing repayments to the county supervisors for guidance on how best to pursue the businesses in question, if at all.

Supervisor Ann McDonough said it would be fair to pursue repayment.

“I don’t want to punish anyone,” she said. “But we’re in that awkward place where no harm is intended, but we have to be equitable with the folks who are making payment back.”

County Attorney C.J. May III said the county’s only real move left was to file suit to collect the funds.

Wickham argued for treating these loans differently than other transactions, due to the historic pandemic in which they were issued.

“If you focus on the punitive damages and delinquencies, I think we’ll be disappointed and we’ll miss the spirit these were intended to accomplish,” he said. “I would challenge us to not look at these in present-day terms, but as part of the overall pandemic relief effort.”

Despite saying that seeking repayment would be fair game, McDonough also said there was no need to hunt down the missing payments.

“I’m not anxious to pursue any of these at this time,” she said. “It’s noted that this is where we are. Let’s see what happens in 60 to 90 days.”

Supervisor Harley Pothoff said that in the case of Crystal Lake Cave, he was confident that the loan would likely be repaid once the estate was finalized.

Reached by the Telegraph Herald, staff at Crystal Lake Cave confirmed that the reason the new owners have not paid is that the estate is still in probate.