The Dunwoody Development Authority has decided not participate in a DeKalb County loan program intended to help pandemic-affected businesses, ending a month-long debate.

The DDA may find other ways to help businesses, board members said at the May 14 meeting where the decision was made. In the meantime, the one such item in its new budget is a $10,000 contribution to a city campaign of posting signs to urge people to patronize local businesses.

The DDA has about $850,000 in the bank from fees on enabling tax breaks for major real estate or corporate projects, and more to come from pending deals. In April, its board members debated whether to use that money to give grants or loans to small businesses, buy out commercial properties as the market declines, or both.

Later that month, board members learned that Decide DeKalb, the county’s development authority, was working on a similar program, attempting to create a $1.9 million fund and asking local cities to contribute. The city of Brookhaven previously said it is considering the proposal. The DDA agreed to explore the idea.

At the March 14 meeting, city Economic Development Director Michael Starling told the DDA that Decide DeKalb had just approved an agreement that morning with its loan-management partner, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and that the proposed arrangement with local cities was still in draft form. Because of that, Starling suggested, the DDA was “not in a position to decide yes or no on this.”

But board members decided no after all, with four of six members voting against participation.

Heavily affecting the decision was an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report that DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond intends to create a $10 million small business loan program from federal funds. There were questions about some details, or lack thereof, in the Decide DeKalb proposal, including a 10% fee to the program’s administrators. And there was continuing dispute about what amount the DDA should give if it did participate.

The DDA board’s two biggest supporters of providing local loans, Robert Miller and Terri Polk, were the ones who pressed for the yes-or-no vote. Polk said that if the DDA did not fully intend to join a loan program, then debating details “is a farce.”

While several members had suggested a $100,000 contribution to some type of loan program, Miller said he would not support anything less than $500,000. He called for a straw poll of DDA members on that issue, which found only two of six in support of giving $500,000 or more.

Miller then made the motion to not participate in the Decide DeKalb program.

Member Bill McCahan objected, saying the decision was premature and that, even if DeKalb did a $10 million program, a local contribution could give the DDA a seat at the table in its distribution. “We’re not wasting a lot of time,” McCahan said. “We just don’t know where this thing is going.”

But the majority voted not to participate. “I don’t want to walk away from this,” chair Jonathan Sangster said immediately after the vote, but that was the decision.

Miller said Starling could now go find another program that “we can be proud of.” Sanger said that if part of $10 million doesn’t come to Dunwoody, “then we’ll find another way” to support local development.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.