Lindsay chamber is back in the black

By C.J. Barbre

After a couple of negative reports about chaos in the Lindsay Chamber of Commerce upon the departure of the office manager Sharon Dimmitt and longtime volunteer Jean Hill, followed by disgruntled small business incubator client, The Elegant Attic, the chamber made some large strides at improving things in the last couple of weeks.

Jean Hill was hired as the office temp, someone there to answer the phone and direct inquiries to the proper person or committee effective Wednesday, June 15. An office manager had not yet been found. Board member Brian Watson, who chairs the economic development committee, said they have budgeted for a bookkeeper and chamber liaison, or the "face of the chamber" to work 4-5 hours a day five days a week. He said a bookkeeper would be needed 1-2 hours a day. Paul Gottschall is heading up the committee to find a new office manager.

"Ideally we could find someone who could do both and then have volunteers to answer phones," board member Vahnn Blue said.

The November 2004 Profit and Loss YTD marketing account put together by former office manager and bookkeeper Dimmitt, showed a total income of $41,130 including $16,100 from the market and $25,000 from the city, along with $130 from the "mural symposium income," for a total income of $41,130. Total expenses including everything from office supplies to salaries came to $53,318.40, for a net income of minus $12,188.40.

In February 2005 the market account showed a net income of $3,047.91 and the chamber showed a net income of $3,127.50.

In April the market account was minus $2,583.10 for the month. Beginning in May, the office manager/bookkeeper quit.

"Tonight in my opinion is really pivotal for the Lindsay Chamber of Commerce. We had the board step up with a plan to move forward. I believe it will be a big benefit to the city," board president Mark Mann said at the board's monthly meeting on Tuesday, June 14.

In lieu of a bookkeeper they asked the city to help sort out the books. Lindsay Finance Director Kenny Walker said he and a couple of his staff came to the chamber and located the computer files. "We reconciled both checking accounts. The biggest surprise was the marketing account had a little over $20,000 in it," Walker said.

"It had been reported on several occasions the account was $10,000 in the red," board member Bert Garzelli said.

Walker explained that there was $27,000 left over "from mural stuff" which accounts for the "mural" entries which has nothing to do with the market. "They created a separate file so it showed a $9,000 deficit plus there had been some charges that should have been charged to the main chamber account instead of the market account." Walker said there was now in excess of $40,000 in both the market account and the chamber account. "The city has offered and Mark has accepted. We will get together a couple of times a week until you get new staff. And the marketing account is no longer under murals," Walker concluded.

Virginia Loya submitted a preliminary budget for fiscal 2005-2006 which begins July 1, with a projected total income of $150,680 and projected expenses at $63,984 for a net income of $86,696. The picture is brightened by the fact that they will be doubling the food booth rental from $15 to $30 per week times 39 weeks for the 18 food booths, while the 182 retail booths will increase from $10 to $15 to rent the pop-ups. A lot of the merchandisers rent more than one booth space. The city has promised the market $21,500 for market purposes, but Loya said they should be able to refund that this year since they are starting with a balance of $42,3245. They will definitely be able to pay the city for the canopy purchases which is $29,960. And even deducting 20% for cancellations (which she said was extremely unlikely, that it would be more like 8%) the adjusted 2006 balance is $74,965, stunning for a market that some said could never work. Still, booth rentals are extremely reasonable, even for this area. And this year they plan to advertise more and also sell merchandise such as T-shirts and coffee mugs.

The chamber's budget was brightened with $65,000 in LID (Lindsay Improvement District) fees for fiscal 2005-2006 and $2,500 from the city for the Small Business Incubator support. They show $85,200 in total revenues and $84,633 in total expenses for a net income of $567 plus a beginning balance of $45,931 for a projected end balance of $46,498 for fiscal '05-'06.

We started working on this budget in New York," Garzelli said. He said the city would take back their funding after the market was stable. "The purpose of the market is not just to build a big market fund, but to do things with the chamber," he said.

"To prove viability of the program it should be self-funding. The city has helped us in providing seed money," board member Paul Gottschall said.

"From the first time a hundred years ago when I got on the chamber board I wanted the chamber to be self-sufficient. It looks like we're finally making it more able to stand on its own two feet," Blue said.

The board had also done a survey around town, asking about 100 businesses if they thought the Friday night market was having a negative or positive impact on their business, on the city and on property values, three separate questions with space for written answers.

"We went to as many businesses as we could and gave them the survey. The majority were mostly positive and said business increased on Friday night. Complaints were minimal," board member and small business owner Suzi Picaso said. She said complaints had to do with such things as finding parking. "Some people felt it slowed down businesses but overall they felt business tripled on Friday and it's getting people out to utilize this beautiful space. It was great just to go in and get their opinions." She said they were talking about having the retail businesses participate in a sidewalk sale on Saturdays, that could also be very successful if most retailers participated.

"I've had people say it has hurt their business, but the social aspect is good," Garzelli said.

"The activity level has been picking up and the effect on the overall town is very positive," Gottschall said.

"I've lived here all my life and never thought we would have parking problems," Blue said.

Mann said the incubator problems were being resolved. It was suggested that chamber ambassadors, whose chief responsibility is attending ribbon cuttings for new businesses, should have a representative attend the monthly board meetings, and be the "eyes and ears" for the board in the community.

Garzelli said ambassadors could also man the chamber information booth and market merchandise booth on Fridays. He added that market participants were already chamber members, that they had paid LID fees up front in addition to booth rentals.

"I

believe this market has done more for business than anything. More people know about their businesses and inquire about their businesses," Mann said about Lindsay businesses. "We're not here to have an event. The whole idea is to create that link."

The next board meeting will be at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, July 12 in the conference room at Sierra Vista Plaza. Meetings are open to the public.

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