The Small Business Administration published specified information about borrowers who received funds from the federal government's multibillion-dollar Paycheck Protection and Economic Injury Disaster Loans Program. Borrower's names, precise loan amounts, addresses, industry codes used, as well as lender information were all made public. Previously, the SBA released detailed information only for loans that exceeded $150,000 and gave dollar ranges instead of specific amounts.
In the Mayor's Reports, during the May 25 Tallassee City Council Meeting, Mayor John Hammock questioned the legitimacy of some of the loans listed in the 36078 zip code and asked the city attorney, John Smith, to cross-reference all of the business licenses on file at city hall with the businesses on the PPP Loan list.
"I have this report right here. It's very disturbing to me," Hammock said. "We by far have the lowest business license fee of any one (city) that I know."
Over 300 businesses are listed in the 36078 zip code.
"According to this list right here we have 339 businesses in the 36078 (zip code). When I started looking at this, I saw businesses that are fraudulent. Some people live in government-assisted housing saying they have a business and getting $20,000. Some people for more than that. I see businesses that never skipped a beat, probably have record numbers. I might not have a problem with that if they put it back in their business, but they are the ones who have to answer for that."
Hammock asked the city attorney to check the business license status of those businesses listed on the PPP loan list. If no business license is on file at city hall, a fee for one will be sent to the business address.
"I want to cross-reference all these businesses, so-called businesses inside the city limits, and send them a bill for a business license. If they don't pay, then send them to municipal court," he said.
Hammock did not stop there. He went on to say that those on the PPP list that appear to be fraudulent could see further action taken.
"The ones (businesses) that I think are fraudulent, which I see a lot of them that are, thousands and thousands of dollars. Some of them are in our court system, they owe the court money. I want to pursue this through the Department of Justice."
While city hall was closed for a short time beginning in March of last year, city employees continued to report to work throughout the health pandemic.
"I am so very disappointed in some of the people in this town because the police officers here in this town, the EMTs, the firemen, the utility workers, the people here in this building we came to work every day. The police were in people's houses with COVID. They put their lives on the line. Just about everyone who works for the city had it. We had an employee die. We had two people in the building who were on ventilators and barely made it out. It just really upsets me that we have so many sorry, crooked, people in this town. I don't understand how they can live with themselves."
According to Hammock, PPP loans were aimed at helping businesses owner navigate during a pandemic, and while most of the businesses listed are legitimate, he said some are not.
"This money was for people who owned businesses, to help them pay their employees and pay themselves if they were a small businesses owner, to keep from going under. We have people robbing the system," he said.
With the growing inflation rate, regular expenses are getting more expensive. The extra costs will quickly add up and that extra expense will most likely be passed along to the paying customer, according to Hammock.
"I don't want to hear any complaints in the next year or two when inflation has already gone up from 2.7 (percent) to 4.2 (percent). All the chemicals and stuff that I have to buy for the city are already going up. The inflation rate is climbing, construction is up, all the pipes that we have to buy are up. I just had to buy a lot of stuff for the gas department that is normally $11,000, it was $16,000. So, when we jack those utility bills up in the next year or two, when we do another feasibility study, and we have gone from losing 11 percent on utility bills to losing 40 percent again, all the hard work, all the beatings that we took raising rates and trying to get to a break-even point, inflation is just going to make that gap even more."
According to Hammock, this is one of the reasons the city cannot afford new facilities.
"People wonder why we don't have swimming pools, we don't have nice Rec centers or 13-million-dollar complexes. This is why," he said.
Hammock said he plans to see this matter through to the end, regardless of what it cost.
"We do the best we can every day but I can promise you this, don't vote for me next time if you don't want to if I even run, but I can promise you this, I'm going to do everything within my power for these crooks to go to jail," he said.