Town steps up to help struggling chamber |

Town steps up to help struggling chamber

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi News
Grand Lake, CO Colo

GRAND LAKE – The town board is throwing the financially strapped chamber a lifeline with an advance in funds and a possible donation starting at $5,000.

Grand Lake Area Chamber board member Lisa Jenkins said the chamber is in desperate need of funds to make payroll and for other priorities. The chamber’s goal is to somehow collect $40,000 just to keep essential operations running.

With a copy of the chamber audit in front of them, the town board agreed to advance $20,000 in Visitors Center operating funds, with chamber repayment of the advance not expected to start until 2012, in $5,000 increments.

The town provides the chamber about $32,732 annually to run the Visitors Center, and supplies on average $30,000 annually in total collected business license funds for chamber marketing.

Grand Lake Mayor Judy Burke said that although the budget numbers are vastly different, proportionately the town of Grand Lake gives as much to its chamber as Winter Park does to its.

As a condition of the advance, town board members asked that the chamber’s website be used as collateral in the agreement, which chamber board members at the meeting supported.

Another caveat to financial aid to the chamber was that in reorganization of the chamber, the chamber committee propose an amendment to bylaws to allow one or two town board members to be voting members of the chamber board. At present, one town board member simply functions as a non-voting “liaison” at chamber meetings.

Trustee Benton Johnson said the change would address “stability issues” with the chamber, which has had five executive directors and several turnovers of boards in the past six years.

A turnover of board members is expected to happen again in the fall. Three directors have resigned from the chamber board – including board president Barb McElroy – with three more promising to not run again. The chamber presently seeks six people to fill board vacancies.

The town board also agreed to dig into the expected contributions section of its 2011 budget to grant the chamber at least $5,000 in matching grants. Town board members made it clear that the matching funds could have an impact on funding for other organizations in 2011.

Chamber volunteer Steve Armstead said cash gifts and pledges are coming in from town business people, with a total $3,840 in cash and commitments as of Monday. Town grant money would serve to match those contributions.

Meanwhile, Bob King, owner of Pancho and Lefty’s, said he may have a sponsor that could support the upcoming Bluegrass event, Aug. 28-Aug. 29.

As much as $40,000 in sponsorship commitments were lost this summer, crippling the chamber, when one sponsor pulled out prior to chamber events.

Chamber board members have since assured the town and community that sponsorships will be contracted with “more than just a handshake” in the future.

Overall, according to the recent audit, the chamber learned that it had spent $116,000 in reserves in 2009 plus $36,000 more, leaving the chamber $152,000 in the hole entering the 2010 budget year. Last week, chamber officials believed the organization faced closure within two weeks absent a cash infusion.

Some of the chamber’s problems stem from alleged fraud in 2008 and 2009, in an amount believed to exceed $17,000, by a former executive director.

Town Trustee Elmer Lanzi also requested that in light of the town’s aid, the chamber should restructure to be “more respectful of people who are not members,” saying referrals at the Visitors Center should include non-member Grand Lake businesses.

“Those people who are not business people and are not directly benefiting from the chamber being there are now helping to pay the tab,” he said.

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