Sooke Chamber wants council to resume funding

Business registration fees were surrendered in 2016

The Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce is making a pitch to district council to get back more than $28,000 it gave up in August 2016 after the chamber said it was ill equipped to be the lead driver of economic development in Sooke.

The chamber chose to withdraw from the community service agreement with the district which had been in place for 3½ years. Funds for the agreement came from business registration fees.

“The district attached economic development for the entirety of Sooke to the funding and the chamber just couldn’t deliver that so it terminated the agreement,” Britt Santowski, chamber president, said in a presentation to council.

“It wouldn’t have been ethical to take the money under those terms.”

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Santowski said the chamber considered that taking the lead for economic development was “out of scope” for the organization.

But now the chamber would like the money back.

Santowski pointed to some of the projects in which the chamber of commerce had taken a lead role in the 6½ half year, including a business strategies seminar, the candidates conversation (part of the pre-election program of activities), and the #ChooseSooke contest sponsored by the mayor.

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She added the chamber also offers small business owners some insurance benefits, host regular “mixers” for businesses, and have contributed to some tourism-related research initiatives.

But not all of council was convinced.

“What I’m seeing happening is that we need to develop a strategy. There’s been interest in establishing an local economic development officer and the South Island Prosperity Project has become increasingly active,” Coun. Tony St-Pierre said.

“Giving the chamber this money now might be putting the cart before the horse.”

Coun. Al Beddows was equally incredulous.

“What I’d like to see is a budget. What are you going to do (if you get the money) that you don’t do now?” Beddows asked.

“The balance sheet (provided to council by the chamber) doesn’t tell me much. I want to know what you’d be spending the $28,000 on. What are the membership fees, for example?”

Acting Mayor Megan McMath had her own questions, wondering if the money would simply go to pay for a chamber staff position. She was assured that it would not but rather would be used for programming.

The chamber will now return to fine tune its request before the district finalizes its 2020 budget.

“I really came here (to council) to find out what it is you want from me and what you want to know,” Santowski said.

The matter was tabled with the promise from Santowski that she will return to council soon with more information.

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