By KEVIN MCCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce wants $300,000 from the cash-strapped City of Santa Rosa to fund its new economic development initiative.
The chamber this year launched a county-wide jobs push called BEST, Building Economic Success Together. The group estimated that with $3.25 million it could create 4,000 new jobs by helping local businesses expand and attracting new businesses to the area.
The county’s unemployment rate was about 10 percent in August.
The effort has generated pledges of $2 million to $3 million from private businesses, $300,000 over three years from Sonoma County, and $10,000 from Healdsburg.
Now Santa Rosa is being asked to step up with a five-year commitment of $60,000 per year.
The City Council will consider the request at its meeting Tuesday.
The city already has financial links to the Santa Rosa Chamber. It lets the chamber’s Santa Rosa Convention and Visitors Bureau operate for free out of the depot building in Railroad Square. It also discounts the rent paid by the chamber in a city-owned building on First Street by $26,000 per year.
Dave Gouin, the city’s director of economic development and housing, said he welcomes the new program.
“Economic development is all about partnerships, and we’re excited that the business community stepped up and pledged their resources to develop this program,” Gouin said.
In his staff report, however, Gouin said the program seemed to have some elements that are not appropriate uses of tax dollars.
One element of the proposal is to “collaborate on a scorecard to track support by elected officials for projects important to the business community.”
Another is to “support initiatives, policies and officials that encourage job creation and community vibrancy.”
Both would need to be omitted from any agreement because as political efforts they “cannot be sponsored with taxpayer resources,” Gouin wrote.
Gouin also said the only source of city money available at the moment is the city’s $118 million General Fund, and that money already has been earmarked for other purposes.
City staff will not recommend dipping into the city’s reserves, which already are below the desired 15 percent, Gouin said, so he is recommending the council only consider making a pledge as part of the next year’s budget.
The city could find other ways to support the effort, Gouin noted. It could pay the $60,000 but then begin charging the chamber a similar amount in rent for the use of the depot. It also could increase the rent at the chamber building to help offset the cost. Or it could count the city’s existing economic development programs as an in-kind contribution.