Freeport council balks at $36K request from chamber

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FREEPORT — Although the Greater Freeport Chamber of Commerce asked the Town Council for $36,000 to support the organization and help maintain an executive director position, councilors on Tuesday approved only half of that amount.

The council voted 6-1 to give the chamber $18,000 from the Desert Road Phase I Tax Increment Financing account, with the understanding that the organization could come back to the council during the regular budget season to discuss additional money.

Councilor Charlotte Bishop supported the $36,000 request.

“The chamber is a good outlet for the smaller businesses in town,” she said.

Chamber President Ed Bonney told councilors that although the organization has 160 members, its goal is to have 225 by the end of the year, which would help make the organization more self-sufficient. In the meantime, the $36,000 would help pay for a full-time executive director. The chamber hired Debora King as the executive director for three months, but needs the funding to support her position moving forward.

“From day one the chamber had hoped to be independent, but I hope people understand that we were an uncapitalized corporation,” Bonney said. “Without professional and experienced chamber staff, the organization would be difficult for a volunteer board to maintain and recruit members.”

While he said the chamber would not “go away” without the funding, Bonney said it would be difficult to provide viable services to its members. 

“The most immediate problem would be we wouldn’t have an executive director,” he said.

But councilors balked at giving the organization $36,000 without seeing a business plan or a three- to five-year projected budget. They were also wary of giving the money without knowing what the town’s budget will be.

Councilor Joe Migliaccio said he is concerned about providing taxpayer money to an organization that only supports its members.

“I’m in support of (the chamber), but at what cost, at what expense to others,” he said.

Chairman Jim Cassida, a business member of chamber and vice chairman of the chamber board, said the $18,000 is a compromise.

“This isn’t ideal, but it gets you halfway,” he said.

Members of the chamber, Freeport Economic Development Corp. and Freeport USA will meet with the council in a workshop on Tuesday, Jan. 11, at 7:30 a.m. in the library. They will answer council questions and discuss ways to collaborate services. The public is invited to attend.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net

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