County Council President Roger Berliner and two council members proposed legislation Thursday that would create a microloan program to help entrepreneurs who lack access to other sources of capital.
“That to me captures what I’m trying to do for the immigrant community and others who are frozen out of capital credit and support small businesses,” Berliner said.
The legislation also represents one of the four pillars that would mark Berliner’s yearlong stint leading the council: expanding the “ladder of opportunity.”
In a letter to colleagues, Berliner and council members Nancy Navarro and Tom Hucker said the microloan program would be run through the county’s Workforce Development Corp., and loans would be limited to Montgomery County residents. Recipients would be required to receive business education and technical assistance.
Loans would be limited to no more than $15,000, although much smaller loans are expected to be approved in the first years of the program. Berliner’s letter said most loans would be in the $500 to $5,000 range.
Council members Nancy Floreen and Craig Rice have signed on as cosponsors. The legislation will be introduced Dec. 13, with a public hearing tentatively scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 24.
The letter says the program could help all entrepreneurs, but particularly immigrants who may lack the small amount of capital needed to purchase a computer, kitchen equipment or office furniture.
“We believe,” Berliner, Navarro and Hucker wrote, “our county can and should play a more direct and aggressive role in bridging those gaps in order to ensure they have every opportunity to succeed and prosper.”
Berliner, a North Bethesda Democrat, was elected council president Tuesday. He was first elected to the council in 2006 representing District 1, which follows the Potomac River and includes Bethesda, Potomac and Poolesville. He served as council president once before, in 2011.
In a Wednesday interview, Berliner said he once heard a speech in which the speaker described how many people view the government as a pyramid with the federal government at the top, the state in the middle and local government at the bottom. The speaker said the layers should be reversed, he said.
“The fundamental hypothesis was that local government is most important. It should be at the top,” Berliner said. “Local government is what affects you the most and what is most effective.”
As a result, another of his pillars is that the county must succeed at providing basic services—like keeping roads properly paved and removing snow in a timely manner.
“We do pride ourselves on cutting-edge policies, but that cannot distract us from what is fundamental to local government,” he said.
Handling the basics also includes dealing with issues relating to education and transportation, services that are beyond the immediate authority of the council.
“We don’t control I-270 all the way to the American Legion Bridge, but we can keep reminding the governor that it’s the most congested interstate in the United States of America, and it’s not OK,” he said.
His other pillars involve expanding inclusiveness and creating vibrant communities.
So, a year from now, how should voters judge whether the council has had a successful year?
“Hopefully how I do my business,” Berliner said, “and whether or not I’ve been thoughtful and respectful and done this work in a great spirit.”
He called the past election season “a time of great anger” in the country and said it was important that county government consider how it performs.
“The ‘how’ to me is very important,” he said.