Miracle on Main Street? CARROLL COUNTY

October 02, 1992

Will Santa forgo his usual weekend visits to Westminster between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year? If the city's business organization is to be believed, he will be a no-show.

The Westminster Business Association, which has paid for Santa's appearances in the past, asked the city council for a $240 grant to pay his salary. The City Council, which prides itself on its parsimonious spending habits, turned down the request at its last meeting. The council's attitude was that awarding such a grant might set a dangerous precedent.

While the council's tight-fisted ways sometimes make little sense, in this case the council was right not to spend the money. Santa's appearance is not a municipal obligation. We won't even get into the question of separating church and state. Sponsoring Santa isn't on the same level of importance as providing police protection, picking up garbage or keeping the city streets clean. When those services are being cut, it seems ludicrous to spend money on Santa.

Don't get us wrong. We're not humbugs. We like Santa. Having him in town during the holiday season adds to the civic charm and feel of the city. We are glad to hear Mayor W. Benjamin Brown has enough money in his budget to cover the cost of setting up bleachers for Santa's parade and wiring a tree for a lighting ceremony. But a Christmas parade without Santa wouldn't be much of a parade. What can be done?

If Santa's presence attracts people and helps the retailers, maybe they should pony up a few more dollars and cover his costs. Or maybe the business association members could hold a candy or bake sale. If the town's shopkeepers don't have the time for fund-raising, maybe the association can locate some volunteer Santas. Or better yet, try to recruit some celebrity Santas. We can think of a number of people around Westminster who have the right disposition, not to mention physical characteristics, to be stand-ins for Santa.

By asking the city to pay for Santa, the Westminster Business Association showed a surprising lack of creativity or initiative. Times are tough. Having Santa visit Westminster is a worthwhile tradition, but the obligation to continue it should rest with the Westminster Business Association, not with the city's taxpayers.

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