Princeton council approves $33K contribution to Chamber in 2024-25 budget

$8,000 will be provided for Independence Day fireworks

Community members gathered in Princeton's Zearing Park for the annual July 4th firework display.

The Princeton City Council agreed Monday to give the Princeton Area Chamber of Commerce $33,000 in its 2024-25 budget, including $8,000 for the Independence Day fireworks.

The council was not in full agreement, however. Councilman Jerry Neumann dissented.

The Chamber asked the City Council for $25,000 for operations. In correspondence with the City Council, Jenica Cole, executive director of the Chamber, said the Chamber Board opted to terminate an agreement with the city in November 2022 to operate tourism for the city. The city during that agreement provided the Chamber $100,000 a year of hotel/motel tax dollars.

“Looking back through the Chamber’s financials and preparing for a new fiscal year has me revisiting the Chamber’s strategic plan, budget and goals for the coming years,” Cole said in the letter, citing she believes the Chamber has covered just short of $30,000 in expenses for tourism to the city since 2020-21.

“We continue to move forward and do what is right for the community and on behalf of our members.”

Initially, the city earmarked $15,000 in the 2024-25 budget for the Chamber. Since, Mayor Ray Mabry said the city removed a $5,000 expense to repair a gazebo in the tech park to shorten that gap.

Mabry said the Chamber provides a backbone for the business community. Councilman Michael McCall said the Chamber’s events, such as its recent St. Patrick’s Day event, help bring visitors the community to spend money at businesses. Councilman Hector Gomez agreed the Chamber’s efforts generate sales tax dollars. Councilman Martin Makransky said he also supported the Chamber.

Neumann was complimentary of the Chamber’s work and also believed it was important to the community, but he questioned if the $25,000 would be an annual contribution, saying he didn’t believe there was enough information presented to the council to determine if that was the case. He also wasn’t in favor of using money from the city’s general fund for the Chamber.

“That money should be for city purposes only,” Neumann said, adding he wanted to be responsible with the city’s tax dollars.

Mabry said the city was given the Chamber’s request Jan. 15, so it should have ample time to think about any future contributions prior to its April budget approval if the Chamber continues that schedule. He agreed tax dollars will need to be spent carefully, but believed giving to the Chamber was a positive use of the funds.

Listing a page and a half of what the Chamber provides for the community, Cole said the Chamber has more than 300 businesses, organizations and individual members, in her letter to the council. She said the Chamber has raised and awarded 130 total grants to Princeton business owners totaling just shy of $150,000 in its Building Improvement Grant Program. She said the Chamber provides networking and educational opportunities, hosting 11 business after hours, six morning mingles and four lunch and learn programs. The Chamber also hosted 19 ribbon-cuttings to recognize and celebrate businesses, along with organizing Shop Small Events, among other offerings.

The city allows the Chamber to use the Prouty-Zearing Community Building rent free for office space and to conduct business, Cole acknowledged, also thanking the Prouty-Zearing Trust and saying the Chamber will continue to be good stewards of the building.

With its fireworks request, Cole said the Chamber is aiming to elevate the experience by enhancing the scale and grandeur of the display as well as making adjustments into how Zearing Park is used.

“To achieve this, we are asking the city again provide support for this annual tradition,” Cole said.

The Chamber took responsibility for Princeton’s annual Independence Day fireworks in 2022 after the Jaycees dissolved. Cole said expenses totaled $19,779 for last year’s event, including fireworks, entertainment, sound, advertising, sponsorship banners and children’s activities. The city contributed $7,100 for 2023 while the Chamber raised and secured sponsorships for the remainder, Cole said.

Monday’s approval of the 2024-25 budget was the first reading. The council will place the budget on file and vote again before it is finalized.