Chamber Seeks Additional Funds

Mayor Asks for Financial Records

BLYTHEWOOD – The Town of Blythewood is in “excellent” financial shape, but the Chamber of Commerce is not.

At a special called meeting of the Blythewood Town Council on Tuesday, the future development of The Manor, the financial problems facing the Greater Blythewood Chamber of Commerce and the future finances of the municipality were discussed.

The Chamber has been struggling financially and wants Town Council to increase funding in an effort to continue the momentum of their work, President Wendy Broderick told Council at the meeting.

“We are on the cusp of something really great,” she said. “Our activity has grown, participation has grown. We want to get to the point where we are self-sustaining.”

To do that, Broderick said the Chamber needs $19,000, the majority of which will go to fund staff and administration.

“We feel strongly, with that level of support, you are going to see the growth we have seen in the last 18 months,” she said. “We are looking at twice that. It (the funding) would be a real shot in the arm.”

The Town gave the Chamber $9,000 last year.

Mayor J. Michael Ross questioned the larger amount of funding being requested, while commending the work of the organization. Ross asked that the Chamber’s books be made available.

“That’s a lot of money, $19,000,” he said. “I’d like to see the revenues of the Chamber. What is the operating budget?”

Broderick said the Chamber’s financial situation sees the Chamber unable to meet the obligations of their scholarship fund and will see their meeting schedule truncated.

One matter the Chamber is trying to transition away from – one that Broderick said has previously funded scholarships – is that of the Blythewood Christmas Parade. The Chamber receives about $7,000 from the Town’s Hospitality Taxes each year, which is about the same amount of money they give out in scholarships.

“The Board had a discussion to see if another organization would be a better fit to take (control of the parade),” Broderick told Council. But the business advocate organization has failed to find a replacement host for the Parade.

The Budget

Council passed first reading on a $1,316,534 budget for FY 2015-16, down from the current $1,447,651 budget.

“It certainly is a substantial change from the current year budget,” Town Administrator Gary Parker said. “I believe it is a realistic budget. It shows you what the costs are.”

In the budget analysis, Parker highlighted the costs associated with the running and upkeep of The Manor which came to $210,000. With $84,855 revenue from rental and equipment fees, it is proposed to transfer $10,000 from the General Fund and $115,895 from Hospitality Taxes for the Manor to break even. The most significant changes for the Manor were above-budgeted salary expenditures for operations staff, specifically those setting up events and cleaning staff.

The 2015-16 Operating and Enterprise Fund Budgets were also passed on first reading. Council asked for a breakdown of the costs of professional services at the June 29 meeting for individual service outlays for Economic Development, information technology consultants, VC3 IT consultants and others.

“Personally, I would like to see a much more detailed plan for what they plan on using this money for,” Mayor Pro Tem Bob Massa said.

New Offices

Parker led discussions surrounding the proposed construction of two offices at The Manor complex. On one side of the argument, it was said that the offices are necessary for the competitive running of the facility. Some councilmen expressed fear that business would be lost with no physical presence of the Town at The Manor.

On the other side, Councilman Tom Utroska, describing himself as the “doubting Thomas,” said he felt the offices were not necessary and should not be a priority with other, outstanding capital projects.

“We need to pay for those capital projects before we do this,” he said.

“There is no question on the money,” Parker explained, describing the financial health of Blythewood as excellent. “We have more than the money to do this. We can easily proceed with this.”

Parker said the project is a relatively small one, with a cost of around $50,000. The project will be discussed more at the next full council meeting to include engaging an architect to examine proposals.

It was also discussed whether the offices could be paid for with $340,000 Utility Tax Credit Grant Funds left from the Town’s now defunct restaurant project. However, Town Attorney Jim Meggs said he believes that these funds can only be used for projects specifically related to economic development purposes. He said the grant must be used by the Town and that the project must be approved by the South Carolina Department of Revenue before it begins.

“How soon can we have a project identified and ready for proposal?” Utroska asked. “I’m scared to death it (the money) will sit there for two to three years and then we will have to give it back, pay taxes on it and pay interest. And I don’t want to leave it for another, quote-unquote, administration.”

“Certainly it is in our best interest to move forward with this,” Parker added.

Analyzing the Manor

Events and Conference Center Director Steve Hasterok explained that he has undertaken a competitive analysis for The Manor, looking to maximize revenues from rental of the Manor, comparing it to similar facilities and competitors.

“The whole idea is to price the manor competitively. Not the most expensive, not the cheapest,” he said.

Priced around $3,000 for 12-hour weekend day rental such as a wedding would require, Hasterok said he was confident that the facility would have paying customers 40 weekends a year. He also proposed raising the rates for business use and changing Sunday rental costs to be in line with weekday rates, rather than more expensive weekend rates, in order to attract more Church and social groups.

The competitive analysis will include nearby venues, such as the Cobblestone Country Club Ballroom, The Farm at Ridgeway, the Columbiana Center in Irmo; and downtown Columbia venues such as 701 Whaley and the Capital City Club. Hasterok will bring his proposed changes before the June 29 Town Council Meeting.

All-Star Tournament

Finally, Council agreed to fund the Blythewood Baseball/Softball League with $1,000 to host an All-Star Tournament for teams of 8- and 9-year-olds, but had significant reservations regarding the care of the fields and surrounding areas.

“Let (the organizer) know what he can do, and that is keep the fields clean,” said Councilman Eddie Baughman. “I want to see that additional overflow parking used. I think the trash is an issue. The parking is a definitive issue. I’d like to see somebody take responsibility for those. They need to know that if they do not follow through, it could jeopardize their funding.”