By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
In a philosophical shift, the Healdsburg City Council has decided to tap into a community benefit fund to help promote local businesses, including auto dealers and hotels.
The $30,000 the council awarded Tuesday night is a relatively small amount, but it provoked a debate among council members because the trust fund traditionally has been restricted to nonprofit groups.
“A lot of nonprofits could use a leg up,” said Councilman Jim Wood, who noted the money in the Community Benefit Expendable Trust Fund previously has gone to things such as swim lessons for children, food programs and the jazz festival.
Those programs, he said, are tangible community projects.
“This has a different feel,” he said of the money being sought by the Chamber of Commerce to bolster advertising and promotional campaigns for the auto, hospitality and downtown business sectors.
Councilman Gary Plass agreed that it is a “philosophical change,” but said “sometimes programs need to be revised and reworked.”
He also said that by giving the funds to business, “the money comes right back to our community,” for example to nonprofit groups that businesses sponsor.
The controversy over use of the $700,000 in the benefit trust fund is sparked by a number of factors, including the projected loss of redevelopment money as a result of the state budget cuts.
For the fiscal year that just began, the council allocated $300,000 in redevelopment money to the Chamber of Commerce for promotional and marketing campaigns for local businesses. That’s down from $400,000 allocated in the most recent fiscal year.
To help make up some of the difference, council members decided to look to the community benefit fund, which was set up years ago with proceeds from the sale of the old City Hall site.
Groups from the Boys and Girls Club to the animal shelter, Healdsburg Museum and PTA have been subsidized by the fund, until last year, when the City Council suspended the program. The council basically decided the fund was not big enough or earning enough interest to keep up with the annual allotments.
But on Tuesday, Plass and Councilman Steve Babb wanted to give $50,000 of the money to the chamber for the marketing campaigns.
Wood and his colleagues Tom Chambers and Susan Jones wanted less. After some dickering, they all agreed on $30,000.