District council has rejected a request from the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce for the reinstatement of $28,000 in municipal funding.
The chamber gave up the annual funding in 2016, when the business lobby group said it could not fulfil the expectation that it be the lead driver of economic development in Sooke.
“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 administrator, said in a December presentation to council.
“It wouldn’t have been ethical to take the money under those terms.”
But the request to reinstate the funding without that economic development expectation did not sit well with district council.
“I’m concerned that we don’t have a budget from the chamber,” Coun. Ebony Logins said.
Highlighting a portion of the chamber’s request that detailed a $50-an-hour position to create chamber-specific promotional material, Logins said she would have trouble supporting that part of the request while at the same time moving to cut funds from the fire department.
It was a position that was mirrored by comments from Coun. Al Beddows.
“A lot of things that the chamber used to do have now been taken over by other organizations. Unfortunately, the chamber, for whatever reason, has backed out of things,” Beddows said.
He pointed to Sooke’s parades and Sookarama as two examples.
“I looked at the proposals (from the chamber), and I see $5,000 for a golf tournament. Who benefits from that and why wouldn’t it be covered by dues from the chamber?” Beddows asked.
“The same with the business strategy seminar. Who benefits?”
Beddows said that while he “felt the dilemma” facing the chamber he had to take into account that, at this point, the council was in the process of trying to trim Sooke’s budget and he could not support the funding request.
Other councillors were equally reticent about re-establishing the funding and Coun. Jeff Bateman suggested the chamber apply for a community grant for a portion of the money.
“Let them apply for a grant and let them get their act together. Take the time to prove themselves and they can come back (with the funding request) for the 2021 budget,” Bateman said.
Mayor Maja Tait introduced a motion to encourage the chamber to apply for a grant and for other sponsorships for their events. The motion passed unanimously.
Another bit of unfinished business, the request to join the South Island Prosperity Partnership was discussed as a tangential issue to the chamber’s request.
The request was met with unanimous support, and council voted to join the organization at a cost of $16,400.
SIPP is an economic development organization for Greater Victoria that is comprised of more than 50 members, including local governments, First Nations, post-secondary institutions, industry associations and non-profits, and more than 20 major employers, all working together to bolster the region’s economic and social prosperity.
Reached for comment on council’s decision, the new president of the Sooke Chamber of Commerce, Karen Mason, had no comment, saying that she needed time to confer with her staff and members before issuing a statement.