The incoming president of the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce board delivered a strong message Wednesday night critical of inaction by city officials toward economic development reform.

During the annual Chamber dinner, Marta Belt spoke about the excitement that surrounded the organization a year earlier. The Chamber and Economic Development Partners had aligned themselves to share resources and work better for the community. But city officials, Belt said, have handled the situation poorly.

"Months of inaction of our community leaders has in no way helped any business in the past year," she said. "Never in the history of the Chamber have we lost as many members as we did last year. We lost 80 members while we waited through uncertainty."

The blame for the halt of progress was placed on the city's attempts to develop an economic development plan. She cited the Blue Ribbon Panel report, commissioned by Mayor Damon Welch, which was not critical of the Chamber, but was critical of EDP.

"Our strategic plan we had been developing the previous two years had stopped," she said.

Belt said the City Council's denial of future funding for EDP will affect how the Chamber moves forward on staffing since the cost of some positions were shared with EDP.

But she added that the Chamber will continue its work and will not be "paralyzed by uncertainty." The Chamber, EDP, EcO15, county officials and the town of Hanover will work together to move Jefferson County forward, she said.

"Is anyone else here as frustrated as I am at the current situation that caused the Chamber and economic development to stagnate during this past year," Belt asked the crowd, receiving some applause.

She concluded the speech saying the Chamber has refocused its efforts and salvaged what was left of the alliance.

Chamber executive director Trevor Crafton told the audience that since taking over the job he has visited more than 100 area businesses to talk about the chamber and what it has to offer local businesses. His efforts have resulted in 20 new memberships. Together, Belt and Crafton said the Chamber will stick to what it does best.

"We are the voice of business," Belt said.