The City Council didn’t fund the Nogales-Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Nogales Santa Cruz County Port Authority when it approved its tentative budget for 2021-22 last week.

It’s unfortunate that the matter had not been considered until that very day. It deserves thorough consideration.

City officials reassured me that the discussion can be resurfaced later in the new fiscal year. If some amount is approved, it could be paid out of a $6.2 million contingency reserve fund, they said.

In fact, Mayor Arturo Garino opened the possibility of revisiting the funding proposal down the road during last Wednesday’s council meeting. But, he said he’d like to see how finances begin to shake out. He especially wants to see employee pay addressed, a plan he said could cost up to $700,000.

The proposal by Councilwoman Liza Montiel to provide the chamber and port authority with $50,000 each for tourism and economic development endeavors failed, 4-3. Joining Garino in quashing the measure were Saulo Bonillas, Esther Melendez-Lopez and Joe Diaz. Montiel was backed by Councilmembers Hector Bojorquez and Jorge Maldonado.

Bonillas made it obvious he came prepared to torpedo the plan and spoke first. He should have spent an equal time learning about what the organizations do for Nogales and Santa Cruz County.

Since December 2020, for example, the chamber has helped 22 local small businesses and non-profits obtain $5,000 each in grants from private corporate funders totaling $110,000. About 10 more are in the pipeline for a second round. This was a literal lifeline at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The chamber also guided about 50 other small businesses through the complex maze of obtaining federal Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) money. Of those, 26 obtained funds totaling tens of thousands of dollars. The chamber also helped 15 local restaurants qualify for state COVID relief funds to help them pivot during the shutdown.

Meanwhile, over the past 18 years, the Port Authority has been principally behind obtaining more than $400 million in local infrastructure funding for such projects as the Mariposa Port of Entry and the Mariposa Road flyover.

They also lobbied successfully for a commercial vehicle overweight fee that benefits the city and county to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

Not a bad ROI. But Bonillas didn’t sound very interested. Sparking some tension, he called for the question after his remarks, which under parliamentary procedure, preempts further discussion.

Garino, however, allowed Bojorquez and Maldonado to offer some input and Maldonado scolded his freshman colleague saying, “This is why we’re here; for all of us to make our own comments.”

But it was Bojorquez who hit the nail on the head. “The (Nogales) economy has been in shambles for the longest time. We have not been able to do anything at the city level for economic development.”

A good start would be to boost these two organizations.

Fiscally responsible measures, as well as some of the city’s share of COVID relief funds, thankfully helped avert layoffs and keep the budget balanced. Nothing wrong with that. However, the funding wasn’t meant to pad city coffers. It’s to offset costs related to the pandemic and to help struggling businesses and nonprofits – like how the chamber of commerce has done.

With $6.2 million in carry-forward money, city leaders must look beyond preserving municipal jobs and start helping a deeply distressed community begin to emerge from the economic devastation brought on by the pandemic.

I hope Mayor Garino and the council see fit to help these two organizations this coming fiscal year as they work toward that end.

(Coppola is publisher of the Nogales International. He can be reached at publisher@nogalesinternational.com.)

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