Little room for chamber in Exeter budget
By Paul Myers
exeter – Budget woes for cities have been ubiquitous in Tulare County. Each city is looking into or has recently passed an increase to their sales tax. City staves and councils have hoped that an increase in revenues will allow them to add more money to their general fund. And for the City of Exeter, additional general fund dollars are a real necessity.
Nearing the end of the 2016-2017 fiscal year, the City has had to defund their Dial-A-Ride program due to changes in reimbursements and on goings costs, reduces reserves for their police fleet and hold off on saving up to replace aging infrastructures like a lift station. But they have also had to make concessions on donations to the Exeter Chamber of Commerce.
In previous years the City has added a $30,000 line item to their budget to help fund the Chamber. However, facing a projected deficit for the current fiscal year during budget talks last summer, the Council voted to grant the Chamber $7,500 per quarter contingent on revenues. According to Chamber President Sandy Blankenship, the City only granted them $7,500 in the first quarter and nothing after that. And now that budget discussions are underway for the next fiscal year, city manager Randy Groom does not see room in the budget for the Chamber. At least as the budget stands today.
“We can’t in good conscious allocate money in to [the Chamber] when we are taking away our own stuff,” Groom said.
And in accordance with other cities Exeter has been more generous than their counterparts, and have given a larger percentage of their general fund to its chamber. In comparison the City of Lindsay grants their Chamber office space, and Woodlake is run by volunteers and not paid staff. The City of Porterville contributes $35,000 to their Chamber out of their $28 million general fund making it a 0.0012% out of their budget. The City of Tulare contributes even less at 0.00031% of their $40 million general fund amounting to $12,500. Blankenship notes that Tulare’s contribution was at one time higher and a recent change in management could raise that amount.
Last year, after allocating $7,500 in the first quarter, the City gave 0.002% of their $4.4 million general fund. And now the City is facing a projected $240,000 deficit by June 30, 2018 according to the latest draft. And Blankenship is aware of that, but feels that the Chamber provides a service that is not only good for them but the city as a whole.
“I know they are watching out for their well being. I’m not blind to that,” Blankenship said. “I do believe that the Chamber does serve a purpose for the City…When I advertise I’m advertising for people to come to town. It doesn’t make me money it costs me money.”
Blankenship said that a $30,000 cut to her budget makes up approximately 10% of her operating budget. And last year when the Chamber only received $7,500 they had to lay off an office aid, reduce their hours of operation on Friday, and almost had to dip into their reserves. But due to some creative planning and belt tightening they were able to continue to provide services at a comparable level.
“It makes it hard. We had to plan much better. And it’s hard to plan what comes through the door,” Blankenship said. “If we didn’t have to buy [something] or have it, we didn’t buy it…I watched every penny.”
Some of the things the Chamber has traditionally done is send staff to travel symposiums to try and build a data base and advertise Exeter as a place to stop before heading to the Sequoias. The symposiums are in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego. Blankenship said that members from all over the world are represented there to display what they have to offer to travelers looking for their next trip.
“It’s a lot of work, it’s not a vacation when you go there…that’s how we build a data base,” Blankenship added.
While operating with one less paid staff member and relying more heavily on volunteers, Blankenship said that the Chamber has tried to become more innovative with how they run events. Already plans are in the works to try and bring more people from the Fall Festival in the park deeper into downtown. Blankenship hopes that by extending the car show down E street and closing off the street to make it more pedestrian friendly for downtown business along E. Although the Chamber continues to hold keystone events like mixers, and the Miss Exeter contest. And while those things are harder with fewer funds, Blankenship feels as if the City and Chamber still have a good working relationship.
“We are trying to figure out ways to make more money, but we are limited. And I understand that they are limited as well,” Blankenship said.
She also added that she is willing to discuss a different donation amount with the City, but has not been approached by the City nor has the Chamber approached the City.