Tuesday, during a nearly eight hour meeting, Madison’s city council put off two plans to help local businesses. One would aid downtown businesses that have faced vandalization and looting. The other program would support entrepreneurs of color.
The relief plan allotted $250,000 for costs that Madison businesses say they’ve accrued from protests and riots following the murder of George Floyd. Businesses could receive up to $25,000 to make up their losses or to pay insurance deductibles.
City Economic Development Division Director Matthew Makolajewski calls the relief fund a short term plan to provide relief. The second plan tied to the relief program allotted $500,000 to support entrepreneurs of color.
Makolajewski says that program would create a cohort of prospective business owners and support them as they started Madison businesses.
He says the city recognizes the need to help businesses recover.
“We also recognized that there was a desire to not just sort of recover to where we were, but to recover to where we want to go as a community. That is to have a more equitable economy, where more individuals of color and especially some of our Black community members are able to start businesses, able to build generational wealth.”
Council President Sheri Carter says this and any council plan to address equity should strive to be sustainable.
The budget for both projects would be supplied from cancelled city projects or projects with excess funds.
During Tuesday’s common council meeting, State street businesses owner Miar Maktabi spoke in support of recovery funds. He says Dubai Restaurant and Bar suffered losses as much as $39,000 in damages.
“State street has to stand up, and we can not stand up with out you guys—alders, leaders of the city of Madison” Maktabi says. “You guys, with your decision, put me in debt. I was debt-free.”
Kailea Saplan spoke against both funds. She argues that the council should spend money on more pressing issues than businesses.
“Truly the swiftness with which you have come together to throw money at repairs for broken buildings before broken trust, broken policing, broken black and brown bodies is appalling,” Saplan urges.
“From where I stand it belies the priorities of the finance committee. You have an opportunity now, when we need it to the most, to do something different, to make structural changes that will actually get at the heart of violence and mistrust.”
While the relief program would be offered to any Madison business with damages from vandalism and looting, earlier drafts allotted the funds for downtown businesses. Alder Max Prestigiacomo says he would not support the relief funds for repairs on State Street, where there are no Black owned businesses.
Prestigiacomo suggests the council listens to what protesters are demanding.
“Regardless of supplemental equity plans, if our step is to inject money to restore property damage, then we willfully misheard the loud voices that have been in the streets,” Prestigiacomo says. “This money should be going toward reparations and funding Black lives. This is what protestors are demanding.”
Council members voted 14-6 to place the proposals on file without prejudice. That means similar proposals can be considered again by the City Council in the near future.