The Lemoore Chamber of Commerce is one of three South Valley organizations dealing with a cut in funding from the city. Photo via Lemoore Chamber of Commerce
Written by Bridget Butler-Sullivan
The chambers of commerce for the cities of Lemoore, Exeter, and Hanford are taking a hit in response to city budget cuts.
As a result, chamber officials are having to reevaluate funding across the board, with some cancelling events and others looking at possible sales tax increases.
On July 1, the Lemoore Chamber of Commerce was forced to take a 28-percent cut in contributions from the city, and is now left with $40,000 in the updated 2-year city contract. Initially, this was going to be a 45 percent reduction, but the city council decided against that when it was put to a vote.
Funding from the City of Lemoore makes up about 20 percent of the chamber’s budget, so any reduction results in some pain.
“We are working very hard to supplement the cut,” said Interim CEO Amy Ward. “Luckily, I have a really great team, and they’re very creative.”
To do this, the chamber has decided to postpone Oktoberfest, a new event that was set to launch this fall. “We’d like to pick [Oktoberfest] up in the future, but we really need to focus on existing events right now,” Ward said.
The chamber will not be increasing membership fees at this time. However, it is looking to increase membership. The chamber is also fervently seeking vendors for its upcoming Salute for AG event, according to Board Chairman William Perry.
Despite the fiscal issues the budget cut created, the relationship between the chamber and city is still positive. “We understand the city has to make financial changes. Times are difficult for a lot of people, and we don’t want to point fingers at anyone. At the end of the day, we want to focus on business and community,” Ward said.
The Exeter Chamber of Commerce had its contribution from the City of Exeter cut altogether as of July 1st. Last year, its contribution was reduced to only a quarter of what it was a year prior.
In anticipation of the budget cut, Exeter’s Chamber slightly increased membership fees. The chamber was also forced to reduce its staff from three to two.
According to Executive Director Sandy Blakenship, while that was helpful financially at the time, the chamber will now need to outsource in different ways.
“We’re looking at events and trying to think of ways to make them more profitable. We’re hoping for more membership and volunteer work as well,” Blankenship said.
Blakenship expects Exeter’s Fall Festival will generate a great deal of revenue for the chamber, as it is the biggest fundraiser of the year. She and other members are hoping for a few more vendors, and plan to highly advertise the event as a way to ensure high attendance.
According to Blakenship, the city is also exploring the idea of a sales-tax increase, but that will not be seriously considered until November 2018 during the general election. In the meantime, the chamber understands that there is not much the city can do.
“The city council would like to fund us, but it’s not feasible. When it comes down to it, this is simply dollars and cents. There is no animosity between the council and the chamber,” Blankenship said.
Hanford is also seeing a decrease in city funding. However, unlike what happened in Lemoore and Exeter, this decline was established in the summer of 2016. The contract reached then states that the city’s contribution will be reduced by $10,000 every fiscal year until it reaches $40,000. In total, this will take about five years to complete.
The city council arrived at this decision after speaking with neighboring towns whose cities contribute significantly less than Hanford. According to City Manager Darrel Pyle, $40,000 is much closer to the average city contribution of Valley towns. “I don’t think the odds are great that [the budget] will be changed. It will be reviewed, but the decision is likely to stick.”
Interim Chamber Board President Cathy Willis declined to comment on the matter.
The Hanford Chamber is facing other issues outside of budgetary means. According to The Hanford Sentinel newspaper, there are only four members on the board of directors as of now, eight away from the minimum threshold of 12 to 18.
Hanford’s Chamber is also in search of an executive director, as the former director, Mike Bertaina recently retired. Bertaina worked on a very minimal salary for the chamber, according to the Sentinel.
Despite the cuts, the chambers seemed determined to adapt and continue their missions.
“The goal is to continue on,” Ward said.