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Thursday, Sep. 18, 2014

Chamber makes pitch for continued investment from city

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Monday night, Greater Blytheville Area Chamber of Commerce President George Hubbard made a pitch to the Blytheville Finance and Purchasing Committee to restore full funding to the Chamber, calling that money an investment.

The proposed 2013 budget slices the Chamber's funding by about 50 percent over last year's budget. It would decrease from a budgeted $30,000 in 2011 and a budgeted $27,000 in 2012 to $13,500 for 2013.

Hubbard noted the Chamber actually received $10,000 from the city in 2011 and $20,000 in 2012, a shortfall of $27,000 from what was budgeted those two years. He said the Chamber relies on anticipated income from the city, and its $250,000 budget has been in the red the last two years, forcing the organization to dip into emergency funds.

"We believe this is not a contribution, and this is not a gift to the Chamber of Commerce," Hubbard said. "We feel we earn the investment -- and that it is an investment, not only in our organization, the Chamber of Commerce, but also for the betterment of the city of Blytheville. We feel we are providing services to the city that other organizations could provide; actually the city could provide these services. But because of our volunteer base and because we are not a government entity, we are able to provide some of these services more economically and better."

Hubbard said Chamber officials calculated that the city receives at least a $160,000 return on the $30,000 investment, saying they stopped at that figure and could have gone further. Some of that $160,000 comes through outside sources, he acknowledged.

Hubbard touted several Chamber programs, including Money For Main, the Blytheville Leadership Institute (BLI) and the "Buy Blytheville" initiative. He pointed out Money For Main has allocated more than $200,000 in grants and loans to Main Street businesses over the last several years, making them more viable and, in turn, leading to an increase in sales tax revenue.

According to Hubbard, last year the Chamber sold more than $200,000 in the "Buy Blytheville" gift cards that can only be spent at Blytheville businesses, another sales tax generator.

He noted the Chamber does public relations through annual maps and magazines and advertises in different media to persuade individuals to buy local and to promote items that are aimed at bettering Blytheville.

They also recruit retail businesses, having played a big role in getting Lowe's here, Hubbard said.

"I can assure you that the Chamber of Commerce will not go away if we don't get a dime from the city," Hubbard said. "We'll continue to work. Your portion of our budget is about 12 percent. If we have to make cuts to make up for that 12 percent, we can. We can't do it as effectively, we can't do it as well. I'd hate to see what we had to cut to get to that point, but it can be done, just like it can be done anywhere else. Our budget is on hold until we see where you guys stand."

The Chamber, a 501(c)6 organization, and the city have a written agreement each year.

General Administration gets more discussion

Meanwhile, the Finance Committee looked over the General Administration budget, which was put in a new format to show percentage of change and a separation of the IRS payroll tax debt.

The city's total projected expenditures without the IRS line item is $16,986,367.70. With the $1,856,667 debt, projected expenses add up to $18,843,034.70.

Thus far, moving the Ritz Civic Center to the Parks and Recreation budget and the proposed cuts trim the General Administration budget by 2 percent from the 2012 budget figure of $615,259 to $602,090. With the blessing of the Finance Committee he chairs, Councilman Tommy Abbott has asked each department to cut their budgets by 7 percent and submit alternative plans that are due by Thursday. Councilman Kevin Snow requested each alternative plan note any fixed expenses.

Along with the Chamber and Main Street Blytheville's 50 percent cut from the 2012 budget, potentially feeling the pinch in the General Administration budget are nonprofit organizations, the Mississippi County Union Mission and the Great River Charitable Clinic, which combined, get $6,500 in city funds.

Abbott said Mayor James Sanders, who could not be at the two recent Finance meetings because of a death in the family, told him do what is necessary regarding the nonprofits, but advocated keeping them in the budget.

"He (Sanders) said because the Mission has been such a contributor to the community and because they affect so many different people -- same way with the Great River Charitable Clinic -- he's just like I think everybody else around this table, you would hate to see that funding be taken away from them," Abbott said. "His heart was to leave it there if we possibly could. At the same time, we're going to make a recommendation."

Councilwoman Missy Langston said nonprofits are near and dear to her heart, but it's unfair to choose two to support financially. She also plans to check on the legality of the city funding a 501(c)3 when Council members go to the Municipal League Conference later this week.

At last Thursday's Finance meeting, some Council members questioned if there was a need for two secretaries at the mayor's office and an answering service.

Abbott apologized to both Sanders and the receptionist for them not learning about the discussion until it hit the newspaper.

"We're not trying to cause any stress or any distress, but we want to move forward and to accomplish this goal without hurting people's feelings," Abbott said. "We're dealing with people, not just numbers all the time. At the same time, we've got to deal with numbers."

Councilman R.L. Jones said: "But there are going to be some times when you might run up on some things that you might not be at liberty right then to talk about, but if it's something we need to do, I think it needs to be done."

Mayoral retirement pay a new line item this year

While looking over the General Administration figures, Abbott noted there are some items in the proposed 2013 budget that weren't in the 2012 budget, skewing it a little.

One example is former three-term Blytheville Mayor Barrett Harrison's retirement pay, which is $35,122, according to the proposed budget. Last August, Harrison began collecting his retirement, which is half of his mayoral salary.

Also, the Dues and Subscriptions line increased from $500 in the 2012 budget to $55,000.

Abbott explained that line includes Arkansas Municipal League insurance, which was paid last year but not put in the budget.

"As we ask these guys to trim their budgets, we've got to realize some of these issues weren't in last year's budget," Abbott said.

Group insurance increased about $20,000 in the GA budget because of a 212 percent loss ratio last year, Abbott said.

More meetings planned

Abbott plans three more Finance meetings before a special meeting to pass a budget on Jan. 31, although he said the board plans to meet monthly and have profit and loss statements in hand when they do.

Council members were given copies of the Statement of Revenue and Expenditures on Thursday to look over in the meantime. It is the first time in several years that Council members are working with actual figures from the previous year during the budget process, and Abbott thanked the Finance Department for their efforts.

He pointed out that the General Fund is limited, but it must supplement any department that comes up short.

"What we have to do is figure out ways we can relieve the General Fund so that we can accomplish the things that we need to," Abbott said. "Our goal is to create a flow that we can put our money in a situation where we can begin to look at things that seem like have been dreams, that we couldn't do, and to get this General Fund in a place to where we can begin to look at the possibility of creating some things that are positive for the community, besides just as the money is coming in it is already dedicated to go some place else. That's the reason we have asked our department heads to help us bring this thing under control."

The next scheduled Finance meeting is 5 p.m. Monday in the Municipal Courtroom.

mbrasfield@couriernews.net

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