Canton evaluating funding for Chamber of Commerce

The Canton Chamber of Commerce office is located in the basement of the municipal building, 60 Main St. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

CANTON — Three months into the village’s 2020-21 fiscal year, municipal officials are evaluating Canton Chamber of Commerce activity and considering whether the full amount of budgeted funding should be allocated this year.

During a regular board meeting this week, village trustees discussed Chamber activity and the potential $6,500 in village funds with Chamber board members Benjamin R. Dixon and Carol J. Spadaccini. Chamber treasurer John J. Gray Jr., of Gray & Gray and Associates CPA, recused himself from conversation, as he also provides auditing services for the town.

“I know money is tight all over, and we’re here to plead our case for what we do for the village,” Mrs. Spadaccini told municipal officials.

The village’s main concern, voiced by trustees Anna M. Sorensen and Carol S. Pynchon, both members of the joint town and village economic development committee, is a return on investment for taxpayers.

“In light of COVID, and in light of the unpredictability of our situation, what is the Chamber doing to support our businesses?” Ms. Sorensen asked. “Just to be perfectly honest, in the documents we have received, I’m not sure I know the answer to that. As such, as somebody who needs to be able to justify where the taxpayer’s money is going, I don’t have all of the answers I need.”

Mr. Dixon shared an overview of Chamber trainings offered to businesses this year and events canceled in compliance with public health guidelines. With Chamber Executive Director Tammy M. Mackin, the board has developed a survey designed to gauge the needs of member businesses and address what the Chamber should be doing “to bring the most value” to its programming.

The survey was posted to the Chamber’s Facebook page Thursday afternoon.

The Canton Chamber has been working with the St. Lawrence County, Ogdensburg and Massena chambers over the last year on an integration study to assess the feasibility of consolidating.

Mr. Dixon said three consolidation models are now being reviewed by the integration study’s advisory board, which consists of representatives from each chamber. Potsdam and Waddington chambers declined to participate out of concern over absorbing costs for the financially-strained Massena chamber, which closed in April and has not reopened.

Mrs. Spadaccini indicated the advisory board would likely not reach a decision about a preferred model of integration by the end of 2020.

Village Trustee Elizabeth R. Larrabee said she would like to further review the Canton Chamber’s activities before making a decision about this year’s funding.

“During the period of COVID, understandably, things were helter skelter,” Ms. Pynchon said. “There was not a lot, while I would go as far to say, there wasn’t any activity coming from the Chamber at that time. Meanwhile our Community Economic Development Office was churning stuff out.”

Though the apparent lack of support provided to businesses by the Canton Chamber during the ongoing pandemic is discouraging, Ms. Pynchon said, the village wants the Chamber to succeed.

“I don’t think for our taxpayer dollars I would feel prepared to make the full payment to the Chamber this year,” she said. “I would like the village to be getting their money’s worth out of the Chamber and for there to be robust programs happening there. And when we see them, we’ll fund them. Otherwise, we need to put taxpayer dollars where there is stuff getting done.”

The Canton Chamber’s next board meeting is Oct. 7, and the village board tabled the issue until its next meeting Oct. 19.

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