Chamber denied more funding again

Friday, May 28, 2010

Marshall County commissioners on Monday voted 7-11 against increased funding to the Chamber of Commerce for this fiscal year ending July 1.

Last year, the Chamber sought $10,000, but was budgeted $3,000. On April 27, commissioners declined to increase the appropriation and this week the request was back.

Commissioner Richard Medley on Monday sponsored the request for $7,000, but agreed to an amendment to reduce it to $5,000. In April, Commissioner Jimmy Stitt reported the Economic and Community Development/Tourism Committee voted against the Chamber request, so he didn't sponsor the increase, nor did any other commissioner.

"The Marshall County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and staff are disappointed that they didn't receive funding for the promotion of Marshall County," the business group said Wednesday in a prepared statement from executive director Ritaanne Weaver. "However, they will continue to promote Marshall County like they have since the 1920s."

Reasons cited for commissioners' votes against increased funding to the Chamber include:

* County government money shouldn't be spent on an organization that only serves its dues-paying members.

* The end of the fiscal year is July 30, or 37 days after that night, although it's acknowledged that traditionally the county budget has been adopted in July and some times later.

* There's a duplication of services when the county funds the Chamber because the county appropriates money to the Joint Economic and Community Development Board (JECDB) which had its executive director in Las Vegas this week to attract businesses to the county. Furthermore, the committee led by Stitt, the ECD-Tourism Committee, oversees spending from the hotel-motel room rent tax collected in the county and that's an effort to improve the local economy.

"The Chamber wishes to clear up an incorrect statement that was made by ... Stitt in the meeting, suggesting that the Chamber duplicates the services of the JECDB," Weaver said Wednesday in a statement for the business group.

The Chamber's mission statement says it "promotes and coordinates" economic development, Weaver said. Its members and staff "do not recruit."

Chamber President Melody Spence told commissioners on Monday that the Chamber's secondary purpose "is to support economic development within Marshall County, such as commercial and industrial development, retail development and tourism."

Weaver said she and Spence meet with JECDB executive director Mike Wiles "on a regular basis to stay informed... The Chamber office is often contacted by potential business owners interested in Marshall County. The Chamber informs them about the county and then has them contact Mike Wiles or Terry Wallace," Lewisburg's industrial developer.

"The Chamber is an organization that strives to make their community a better place in which to live and work by promoting business and tourism within the county," Weaver's prepared statement says. "The Chamber is the first organization contacted when newcomers or tourists come to town."

Stitt said he "asked around" to know what the Chamber is known for: When people think of the Chamber, what comes to mind? The answers were: July 4th, ribbon cuttings and fundraisers.

"That's what's out in the public," Stitt said during the Monday night meeting.

Beyond his point about duplication of services, Stitt said that service clubs "give back" by supporting the community, apparently in contrast to doing so with government funding.

Commissioner Mary Ann Neill said she didn't oppose some funding, but the timing was late and fundraising events aren't the way to run a business.

In a prepared statement to the commission, Spence said, "We have never asked or intend to ask to be funded strictly by our county's taxes... Just about every county surrounding us supports their chamber strictly by county taxes.

"The Chamber (here) has to struggle to operate from day to day," Spence said.

The Chamber's office is well run and has answered 1,100 calls since Spence took office in January, Spence said. She named various kinds of requests for information about the County, and said the Chamber sends out convention packages and helps plan weddings and reunions.

Spence praised the Chamber for sending customers to her shop, Victorian Melody on West Church Street where, she said, customers have decided to become county residents because of its charm and their reception.

"Some little girls grow up wanting to become Miss Marshall County while watching the current Miss Marshall County being crowned" at the Independence Day festivities coordinated by the Chamber, Spence said.

Commissioners noted other local government support and there was discussion about how the JECDB in other counties is handled by the Chamber of Commerce.

Voting 17-1 to amend the $7,000 request to $5,000, all commissioners except Wilford "Spider" Wentzel voted yes. He voted no.

The 11 commissioners voting against the $5,000 appropriation were Wentzel, Stitt, Neill, Phil Willis, Rocky Bowden, Scottie Poarch, Mickey King, Jimmy Wolaver, Billy Spivey, Don Ledford and Tony White.

Voting for the appropriation were Commissioners Seth Warf, Reynelle Peacock-Smith, Larry McKnight, Medley, Dean Delk, E.W. Hill and Tony Williams.