April 5, 2017 Ombudsman Complaint - Cramahe Funding Of BCCC

Council voted to provide office space to the Brighton-Cramahe Chamber of Commerce and to fund the operation of the Chamber for three years.  This was a split decision with the tie vote being broken by Mayor Coombs.  When this happened a complaint about funding the Chamber was filed with the Ombudsman Office.

Ombudsman Complaint - BCCC

The appendices to this complaint can be read here

Appendix A - BCCC Brochure;  Appendix B - Email from Brian Ostrander;  Appendix C - Gritt Koehl Email To Mayors and Deputy Mayors;  Appendix D - Gritt Koehl Email to Craig Brooks;  Appendix E - Craig Brooks Email To Gritt Koehl;  Appendix F - Cramahe Admin Report re BCCC;  Appendix G - Letter From Wayne Taylor

February 12, 2017 Email From Gritt Koehl

Sent to: Mayor Walas, Mayor Coombs, Deputy Mayor Vink, Deputy Mayor Arthur and Councillors representing the citizens of Cramahe and Brighton:

Subject: Brighton-Cramahe Chamber of Commerce Funding Application 2017

It is with great respect that I write to you, as a concerned taxpayer living in Northumberland County, regarding the 2017 funding request by the Brighton-Cramahe Chamber of Commerce (BCCC). The BCCC is requesting funding for 2017 as follows:

  • Brighton - $29,000 annually for 3 years (Brighton considering $25,000 annually for 2 years)
  • Cramahe - $21,360 annually for 3 years

I am concerned about precedent being set by local governments providing major funding to an organization such as a Chamber of Commerce. By its own Mission Statement, the BCCC identifies itself as being “a strong voice in lobbying the governments”. The following is copied unaltered from the BCCC Website.

“Helping to Build Great Communities - Brighton - Cramahe Chamber of Commerce

Working with member businesses to help build and strengthen the business

communities of Brighton and Cramahe

The Chamber serves the business communities of the Municipality of Brighton and The Township of Cramahe and surrounding area. We are a nonprofit, membership-generated organization helping member businesses collaborate in promoting economic development and tourism in our district.

The Chamber supports efforts to enhance the business environment in which we operate, provides a strong voice in lobbying the governments regarding legislation, information on business, trade opportunities and training, direct referrals and the ability to network with other members. All members of the Brighton - Cramahe Chamber of Commerce are also members of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

Our mission is to facilitate the advancement of commerce, tourism and community interests in Brighton, Cramahe and surrounding areas.”

The following is an excerpt from the Ontario Municipal Act, Section 106:

Despite any Act, a municipality shall not assist directly or indirectly any manufacturing business or other industrial or commercial enterprise through the granting of bonuses for that purpose.”

I pose the following questions to Councils.

  1. Is it possible that governments are in violation of the Ontario Municipal Act, Section 106 by providing funding to Chambers of Commerce, whose membership is made up of paying manufacturing, industrial or commercial enterprises?
  2. Furthermore, when potential government requested funding is supporting more than 50% of the annual operating budget, can that Chamber of Commerce be considered viable?
  3. Is it the role of, and is it legal for, a government to essentially pay the Chamber of Commerce to operate?
  4. The service contract presented by the BCCC is what Chambers of Commerce typically provide. Since when do Chambers of Commerce provide services to local governments, and is the success of those services measurable?

BCCC has 104 business members and 1 MPP member according to its Membership List. The breakdown of members is as follows:

  • Brighton – 64 ($25,000 ?)
  • Cramahe – 17 ($21,360 ?)
  • Trenton – 6
  • Cobourg – 6
  • Belleville – 4
  • Barrie – 1
  • Carrying Place – 1
  • Kingston – 1
  • Peterborough – 1
  • Port Hope – 1
  • Wooler – 1
  • Quinte West – 1
  • Lou Rinaldi, MPP

Cramahe 2015 BCCC Funding

When the BCCC first approached the Township of Cramahe Council in 2015 for funding, two out of four Councillors were vehemently opposed to the funding. Heated debate took place, but in the end, the tie vote was broken in favour of the funding by Mayor Marc Coombs.

Mayor Marc Coombs is the Municipal Delegate for Cramahe on the BCCC Board of Directors.

Councillors and many taxpayers of Cramahe were not happy with the decision to fund the BCCC.

Cramahe 2016 BCCC Funding

The 2016 Budget process in Cramahe was extremely controversial. Councillors were not provided with 2015 Actuals when deliberating the 2016 Budget. Councillors voted not to approve any Issue Papers (except electrical panels at Keeler Centre and Summer Student). Two Councillors were not prepared to approve the 2016 Budget without further discussion, because the BCCC funding had been “included” in the budget, instead of coming before Council as a funding request. The budget was passed at an extremely tense Council Meeting, once again by a tie vote being broken by Mayor Marc Coombs.

Once again, Councillors and many taxpayers of Cramahe were not happy with the BCCC funding.

Information from other Municipalities

Cobourg – does not fund Chamber of Commerce in Cobourg

Hamilton – does not financially support the Chamber of Commerce in Cobourg

Port Hope – Chamber of Commerce received a $900 donation in 2016, and asked for $5,000 in 2017

Alnwick/Haldimand – Arryn McNichol, Treasurer for A/H stated that A/H Township does not fund the Chamber of Commerce.

It is the understanding of many, many taxpayers I have spoken with over the past two years, and in particular in the past few days, that Chambers of Commerce are funded by business members, donations and fund-raising activities on the part of Chambers of Commerce. The general position is that it is not appropriate for taxpayers dollars to be

funding a business membership driven organization such as Chamber of Commerce. Perhaps a nominal donation instead?

Consider Your Taxpayers

I respectfully request that you consider the above information and thank you for taking the time to hear the voice of a taxpayer.

Sincerely,

Gritt Koehl

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February 12, 2017 Email Response From Mayor Marc Coombs To Gritt Koehl

Subject: Re: Brighton-Cramahe Chamber of Commerce Funding Application 2017

Thanks for the email

You obviously spent much time researching this issue

Unfortunately you completely missed the point that what the Chamber is requesting is a fee for service contract, it is not a grant or donation This type of work was done before in Cramahe by a staff person at a cost of well over $60k annually

Many communities have service contracts with their local Chambers for providing services such as tourism

Brighton has in the past, as has Cobourg.

I believe Trent Hills has a contract with their Chamber for tourism services. This is not something new

It is a very cost effective method of service delivery

Best Regards

Marc

p.s. My comments above are my own- I don't want you to presume I am speaking for Brighton Council

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February 12, 2017 Response From Gritt Koehl to Mayor Marc Coombs

Subject: RE: Brighton-Cramahe Chamber of Commerce Funding Application 2017

Thank you Mayor Coombs for your quick response.

I reached out for advice from several organizations. I have also asked residents to please write to their Councillors about this issue, but many feel depressed and that it won’t make any difference. I did read the “service contracts” proposed for Brighton and Cramahe. Prior to Cramahe entering into a “service contract” with BCCC, the Township undertook the following initiatives:

  • October 2007 Cramahe Township generated a Community Improvement Plan Report
  • August 2012 Cramahe Township, through Cramahe Retail Revitalization Committee, generated a report on Business Retention & Expansion Project.
  • May 2013 Cramahe Township generated a report “Development of a Working Strategic Plan and Actions for Retail Revitalization”
  • 2015 Cramahe Township entered into “service contract” with BCCC for approx. $20,000 and approx. $20,000 was funded again to the BCCC in 2016.
  • June 2016 Cramahe Township approved a Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Development with a report generated in December 2016.

What taxpayers are asking:

Is Cramahe Township any further ahead with economic development and tourism for all the money put into these committees, reports generated and funding of BCCC?

Where are the tangible benefits, or metrics demonstrating effectiveness of the services provided by the BCCC?

Why does the BCCC only have 17 members from all of the businesses in Cramahe?

Why is the downtown core struggling with high turn overs of storefronts? (This is occurring everywhere, not just in Cramahe)

Taxpayers are pleading with their local governments to fix their roads, provide the services they are mandated to provide, take care of their citizens, as efficiently and cost-effective as possible. Taxes are rising at an alarming rate for taxpayers, and taxpayers wages are not keeping pace with those increases. One area that Councils could cut costs is through limiting discretionary spending.

If 50% of Council is opposed to a particular issue, can the issue not be brought before the citizens for their input?

Respectfully,

Gritt Koehl

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February 10, 2017 - Funding Update to Chambers of Commerce in Northumberland County

Tuesday, February 14, 2017 Council Meeting - a delegation from the Brighton-Cramahe Chamber of Commerce will appear before Council to once again seek funding. Please take the time to read the letter and report from the BCCC, which you can find as part of the Council-in-Committee Agenda on Cramahe's website.

Looking at Brighton Municipality Website, under Municipal - Budget, there is a January 17th update to the budget. On page 5 it shows that Brighton did not provide any funding to the BCCC in 2015 and none in 2016 either.

Regarding Chambers of Commerce for Port Hope, Cobourg, Hamilton and Alnwick/Haldimand, I have been provided with the following information.

Northumberland Central Chamber of Commerce:

Cobourg – John Hill, Chairman of Northumberland 89.7 FM Radio states that the radio station is a member of the Chamber and that the Chamber receives NO Funding from Cobourg Council.

Hamilton – John Davison, Vice-Chairman of Citizens Council for Hamilton Township states: “Hamilton Township does not financially support the Chamber of Commerce in Cobourg.

Port Hope – Jim Ronson, President of the Port Hope Ratepayers Association states: “No money is given. In fact our chamber of commerce is very active raising money for community projects such as our recent rink renovation.”

The above statement for Port Hope is not completely accurate. After looking at the 2017 Port Hope Budget (which was approved recently), it appears that the Chamber received a $900 donation in 2016, and asked for $5,000 in 2017. It must be noted that Port Hope has a population over 16,000 and the Budget is over $18,000,000.  Cramahe has a population of approx 6,200, and yet the BCCC is asking Cramahe for $21,360 annually for 3 years and is asking Brighton for $29,000 annually for 3 years. Brighton Council is only considering $25,000 annually for 2 years. Sounds like the BCCC is not a sustainable business service organization. Business Service groups are not government service agencies and their operations should not be funded by taxpayers dollars. Monitoring of spending by Councils is truly out of control, if this is what is happening.

Alnwick/Haldimand – I spoke in person with Arryn McNichol, Treasurer for A/H at yesterday’s budget meeting. He stated that A/H Township does not fund the Chamber of Commerce.

It is the understanding of all individuals from the above organizations that Chambers of Commerce are funded by business members, donations and fund-raising activities on the part of Chambers of Commerce. Business people for business people.

The general position is that it is not appropriate for taxpayers dollars to be funding a business membership driven organization such as a Chamber of Commerce.

There are Councillors that serve the taxpayers on Cramahe and Brighton Councils that do not support funding the BCCC. The question needs to be asked of both Councils - Is it appropriate to fund a Business Chamber of Commerce?

You, as taxpayers in Brighton and Cramahe, are urged to email your local councillors, or submit a letter in writing to councillors, expressing your position on this important issue.

 

Gritt Koehl