For years, the city has been donating money to the chamber from its redevelopment agency, which is a government entity that uses property tax to spur new development.
Due to a recent state law that forces cities to close their redevelopment agencies by the end of this month, Downey doesn’t have the money it normally donates to the chamber.
The chamber requested the city pay the money from its general fund.
While the City Council at Tuesdays’ meeting approved the donation, council members said they were upset that chamber director Sue Nordin didn’t have a definite figure for the chamber’s budget.
None of the other people representing the chamber knew either. They also could not answer questions by Councilman Fernando Vasquez about how the chamber spent its money.
The lack of data left council members miffed.
“I’m a little frustrated with you tonight on your lack of preparation,” Mayor Roger Brossmer said.
Chamber Director Sue Nordin on Thursday said she got tongue tied in front of the council, and that her estimate she gave at the council meeting for the chamber’s annual budget – $311,000 – was correct.
At the meeting, chamber representatives said the chamber was vital to businesses struggling through the recession.
“We’re not asking for any charity or any gifts,” said Michael Murray, who spoke for the chamber and who is also a Downey Planning Commissioner. “We’re asking for an investment in our city. This is one of the areas we need to put money into.”
Other members of the chamber told stories of how the group helped their businesses.
Councilman David Gafin reminded everyone that the city had already promised the money. The chamber put on events, such as the Christmas parade, on the assumption that the city would keep its word, he said.
Vasquez and Councilmen Mario Guerra and Luis Marquez all said it wasn’t an easy decision to pay the chamber when the city was facing possible layoffs to the city’s staff.
“For this year, I’m for it,” Vasquez said of the donation. “But were’ going to have to make painful, painful decisions in the coming weeks and coming months.”
“We’re facing a huge deficit right now,” he said.
He and other council members said they weren’t promising any payment next year. The city is facing the loss of $1.1 million from its redevelopment agency. In addition, the city will face major hurdles next year due to decreased property taxes and increased employee costs. Guerra estimated the city will face a $3 million budget deficit.
Guerra also said he was upset that the chamber excluded former council members from riding in the chamber’s annual Christmas parade, and he insisted that the city have a say in who gets to participate in major chamber events, such as the parade and the annual street fair.
Vasquez and the city’s staff also said they would like the chamber to become more sophisticated with training and to include the use of social media. The city is working to help the chamber include an educational component to its services, said Brian Saeki, the city’s community development director.
Brossmer said he expected the chamber to come more prepared the next time they want money from the city, saying he and the council needed numbers, not anecdotes.
“When we’re laying off people, we just can’t say, ‘We like the parade,’” he said.
Brossmer said he appreciated the chamber putting on the Christmas parade and the street fair and for supporting the business community. A former teacher, he said he was giving the chamber “a homework pass on this one.”