Council Up’s Chamber Budget

BLYTHEWOOD (June 16, 2016) – During a four-hour budget work session on Tuesday morning, Town Council considered a request by the Blythewood Chamber of Commerce to more than double the Chamber’s funding from $9,500 to $20,000.

Councilman Tom Utroska suggested only a 5 percent increase to $10,000, while on the high end, Councilman Malcolm Gordge, siding with the Chamber, suggested an increase in funding to $14,500. Councilmen Eddie Baughman and Larry Griffin favored a middle ground between $12,500 and $14,500. Mayor J. Michael Ross suggested instead a 25 percent increase to $12,000, which was approved unanimously by Council.

But the vote came after a lengthy discussion of what the proposed increase would be used for and an airing of whether the Chamber was serving the smaller businesses in the town.

“We’ve talked for three years now about the Town paying the salary of Mike Switzer, the Chamber’s Executive Director,” Utroska said. “Originally, it was presented to us by Mr. Switzer that other Town’s paid their directors. Then it was corrected that other towns do not, in fact, pay their (Chamber) directors’ salaries.”

In an email to The Voice following the meeting, Switzer wrote that the requested increase in funding was needed to pay for office space for the Chamber, which now uses space in McNulty Plaza. That space is loaned to the Chamber by the building’s owner free of charge. The Chamber pays the cost of the office’s utilities, which comes to about $600 per year according to the Chamber’s published budget. But the office is for lease, so the Chamber might have to eventually move out, Switzer said.

When asked by The Voice to explain a proposed $9,000 increase in the Chamber’s payroll budget from $21,000 in FY 2015-2016 to $30,000 in FY 2016-2017, Switzer said the increase would go to salary increases for him and the Chamber’s other employee Kitty Kelly, explaining that with increased membership, they were working more hours.

With the proposed increase from Council, the Chamber’s overall budget would have increased from $41,000 to $71,500. Switzer told Council in April that besides a small monthly salary he receives 10 percent of the Chamber’s revenue.

Griffin asked if the Chamber was doing “what we think it should be doing. If they are accomplishing what we want them to accomplish, that’s positive?”

Later referring to Griffin’s suggestion that the Chamber should follow Council’s directions, Ed Parler, a Chamber Board member, told Council the Chamber functions independently of Council with a mission to serve its members.

“The wishes of the Chamber members may not be consistent with the policies of the Town Council. We function as independent bodies,” Parler said.

Ross suggested that the Chamber is doing a good job, that at the Chamber breakfast that morning, Switzer was talking about the big Kroger coming to Killian Road.

“But it’s (Kroger) not in the town of Blythewood,” Ross said. “It’s on the outskirts.”

As a member of the Chamber himself, Ross said the Chamber is in a better place than it’s ever been.

“But I still think it does not seem to provide for the businesses in our Town Center District. Do those (Town Center) businesses get what they need from the Chamber? Is there a value for them in being a member of the Chamber?” Ross asked. “We can reach out to the (big stores), but they are not really in the town. Our Town Center businesses are Rimer’s Hardware, Blythewood Pharmacy, Pam’s Fashions, Papa John’s. These are our businesses. I think all of a sudden we’ve gone to a cloud above all that.”

Ross said he did not feel comfortable increasing the Chamber’s funds to more than $12,500.

“You’re moving forward,” he said to Parler, “and this ($12,500) is not going to buy you a building. But we don’t give funding to other organizations, not even Bravo Blythewood. They only get money from the Hospitality Tax funds for sponsoring events.”

Utroska agreed with Ross that the Chamber had gone to a cloud that’s beyond the town of Blythewood.

“Bringing businesses in from out of town is important, but I’d just like to focus on the local businesses too,” Utroska said. “The Chamber must show local businesses that it is of value (to them).”

Ross said he and Town Administrator Gary Parker meet with Switzer, Parler and other Chamber Board members every two months.

“We work closely with the Chamber and recently purchased way-finding signs for the town at the Chamber’s request,” Ross said. “I think the Chamber knows what we would like and that’s for even more to be done for small businesses, mom-and-pop businesses, that make up Blythewood. But we want all of them (businesses).”

Before he finished, Ross said he was a little disappointed that the Chamber has abandoned the sponsorship of the town’s Christmas Parade.

“I just think that was a perfect way to promote the Chamber,” Ross said.

In an email to The Voice, Switzer said he was disappointed that Council did not approve the full funding request.

“We are disappointed,” Switzer said, “and will make every effort to convince Town Council of the necessity and justification for our original request between now and final reading for the Town’s budget.

Council passed first reading of the Town’s budget at the workshop and will take the final vote on Tuesday, June 28 at The Manor.