Councilman Frank Morris said if the city can find money to fund the chamber, it can find money to fund police and fire.
Three members of City Council said Monday that $175,000 would be better spent on police and fire than for the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The money, which will come from the general fund, makes up 17 percent of the chamber’s $1,044,000 budget for its economic development program. The money is used to attract new businesses, retain existing ones and provide free programs to residents, Chamber President and CEO Dennis Saunier said.
Council voted 9-3 on the expenditure.
Councilman Frank Morris, D-9, said the money would be better off in the police and fire departments. He said the city did not fund the chamber in 2012 and that the organization “didn’t go bankrupt.”
“Vote any way you want, but my gut is we have to put the health and welfare of our constituents first before we start passing out checks for $175,000,” he said, winning applause from some in attendance.
Councilmembers Kevin Fisher, D-5, and Mary Cirelli, D-at large, agreed with Morris and joined him in voting ‘no.’ Fisher also said that he doesn’t like passing taxpayer dollars to a private entity when there is no public accountability.
In trying to make his case, Morris inaccurately said there was a delay by the fire department in responding to a runaway car that struck Taggart’s Ice Cream early Monday morning. Fire Chief Stephen Rich said by phone following the meeting that firefighters were dispatched to Taggart’s at 4:40 a.m. Monday and were on the scene within six minutes. But Rich agreed with Morris’ that his department is understaffed, saying, “We do need more firefighters.”
The debate about funding for police and fire has emerged as a theme at council meetings recently.
Councilman Joe Cole, D-at large, who is running for Morris’ ward seat in the May 7 Democratic primary, took a swipe at his opponent by saying he was trying to win over safety forces’ endorsement.
“Maybe the chamber should endorse him and we wouldn’t have these issues,” Cole said. “It’s very clear we continuously have these issues and we don’t have a real discussion about it. It’s time we start having that. It’s actually deplorable.”
Cirelli jabbed back, saying council was in the midst of such a discussion about funding for the safety forces, but that “it’s going right over somebody’s head.” Morris later accused Cole of taking “pot shots” during a debate over a serious issue.
President Allen Schulman said it was a “tough political issue,” and urged council to vote their conscience.
The city can no longer use federal Community Development Block Grant dollars to contribute to chamber activities. Safety-Service Director Warren Price said last week that the city is searching for new ways to fund the chamber. This year, it was accomplished by moving the cost of street lighting from the general fund to the capital improvement fund.
Page 2 of 2 - Saunier said the city needs police. They keep safe the very businesses served by the chamber, he noted.
“But we need to stop apologizing at some point for economic development,” he said. “People need jobs. If they have jobs, maybe the crime rate will drop. We need to consider that.”
Reach Matthew at 330-580-8527 or
On Twitter: @mrinkREP